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Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard still dealing with knee inflamation, status for Game 1 vs. Mavericks up in air

Utah Jazz v Los Angeles Clippers

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 12: Paul George #13, James Harden #1, and Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers look on during the game against the Utah Jazz on April 12, 2024 at Crypto.Com Arena in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2024 NBAE (Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

In what feels like a toss-up first-round series against Dallas, the Los Angeles Clippers are banking on playoff Kawhi Leonard to lead them to the next round.

Except they may not have Leonard at all. He is still dealing with inflammation in his right knee, team president Lawrence Frank told Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“He’s doing everything,” Frank said of Leonard treating his knee. “Our medical staff is doing everything to get the inflammation down so he can play. Progress has been made, but more progress needs -- the inflammation needs to continue to reduce so he can do functional basketball movements.”

Frank added, “There is no gamesmanship here and we’re very sensitive of the fact that questions are going to be asked and want to be as transparent as possible. It’s OK to say what the truth is. It’s unpredictable. We’re hoping it’s trending in the right direction. It’s a very accurate statement. When it gets to a point where he’s able to play, then that’s when he’ll be back on the court.”

Previously, coach Tyronn Lue said he was preparing as if Leonard would be available Sunday for Game 1, but it’s harder to be optimistic that happens after what Frank said. Leonard has not played in an NBA game since March 31 — Sunday of Game 1 will be 21 days since he last stepped on the court—and the fact that he is still dealing with inflammation two days before the game is concerning.

Leonard played in 68 games this season, the most he’s played since 2016-17 when he was still with the Spurs. He had an All-NBA season averaging 23.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists while shooting 41.7% from 3 and playing quality defense. Leonard and the Clippers agreed to a three-year, $149 million extension that kicks in next season.

Without Leonard, the Clippers will have to rely heavily on two guys with spotty playoff histories: Paul George and James Harden. This will also hurt the Clippers’ defensive matchups when trying to deal with a Mavericks team that has Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving. In short, without Leonard, beating Dallas becomes a mountainous problem, and it looks more and more like one the Clippers have to deal with.