Kawhi Leonard’s status in question as Clippers face Mavericks

Field Level Media

April 21, 2024 at 1:59 am.

With the NBA playoffs getting underway, it is time for the annual tradition of Kawhi Leonard health updates with the Los Angeles Clippers and questions about how far Luka Doncic can take the Dallas Mavericks.

In a matchup of teams desperate to make their mark on the postseason after recent disappointments, one will be headed home early as the host Clippers and Mavericks begin their best-of-seven first-round series on Sunday.

Leonard again is dealing with knee issues, with inflammation keeping him out of Los Angeles’ final eight regular-season games. There is something about the playoffs and Leonard’s knees that do not mix.

While the Clippers have yet to officially rule Leonard out of Game 1, it appears to be trending that way.

“At the end of the day, Injuries happen,” the Clippers’ Paul George said Saturday. “That’s part of the game, no way of really avoiding it. As much as it is about chemistry, being on the floor together and playing the best basketball you possibly can, a lot of it has to do with luck, too. … I do think at some point he’ll be with us.”

When knee injuries knocked Leonard out during the 2021 and 2023 playoffs, the Clippers quickly were eliminated. When knee surgery kept him out of the 2021-22 season, Los Angeles didn’t even make the playoffs.

If Leonard is unable to play, it puts even more responsibility on George and fellow star James Harden, who was acquired in a trade from the Philadelphia 76ers and helped to transform the team into one of the best in the NBA at the midway point of the season.

It has been a rocky ride since, although Los Angeles did reel off seven victories in a span of eight games starting March 27 to lock down the No. 4 seed and earn home-court advantage over the No. 5 seed Mavericks.

Dallas also crafted an impressive late-season surge, going on a 12-1 run starting March 17 and 16-2 stretch starting March 7.

Doncic averaged 33.1 points with 10.2 rebounds and 9.9 assists while playing in 16 games during the 16-2 run. The five-time All-Star finished with 33.9 points per game to win his first NBA scoring title.

After a pairing with Kyrie Irving was not as effective as expected last season, it has been closer to projections this time around. Irving averaged 25.6 points with 5.0 rebounds and 5.2 assists in 58 games, playing a stretch of 31 consecutive before missing the last two for rest after the team was locked into the No. 5 seed.

A veteran of 17 playoff series in his career with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets, Irving knows that Game 1 is the tone setter that sets the matchup on its course.

“After Game 1, it’s pretty much adjustments,” Irving said of the message he delivered to the younger players on the team in advance of the playoffs. “You just got to stay balanced and limit distractions.

“Just do what you’ve been doing since you were a kid and have fun doing it. Our young guys will be prepared, but until they go through it, they won’t have any idea what it’s like.”

While George made it sound like Leonard might miss the opener, Dallas won’t be lulled into a false sense of security.

“I’m preparing my mindset and my game for him to play,” the Mavericks’ Derrick Jones Jr. said. “It’s a big game. It’s a playoff game. I don’t think he wants to miss it. I don’t think the (Clippers) want him to miss it.”

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