Kawhi Leonard injury update: Clippers unsure if All-Star will play in Game 1 vs. Mavericks in NBA playoffs

Kawhi Leonard hasn’t played since March 31, but the Los Angeles Clippers still aren’t sure if he will be available for Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday, according to coach Ty Lue. Leonard has been dealing with knee inflammation since March, and according to Lue, he participated in a quarter of practice on Tuesday. The plan is seemingly to ramp Leonard up this week in the hopes that he can participate in Game 1 of the Dallas series.

Leonard, an All-Star for the sixth time this season, played in 68 of the Clippers’ first 74 games this season. Already, that makes this his healthiest campaign since the 2016-17 season, when he played 74 games for the San Antonio Spurs. Injuries have been a near-constant for him since then, with nearly two full seasons (2017-18 and 2021-22) lost entirely due to lower-body issues. 

These problems have persisted into the postseason even when he’s entered the playoffs healthy. Leonard played in the first two games of the Clippers’ series against the Phoenix Suns last season, but missed the last three games with a knee sprain. He tore his ACL during the 2021 postseason, and even when he made it through the 2019 playoffs to win his second championship, he did so by playing through a leg injury.

The Clippers have struggled mightily since the All-Star break, and those issues even included the period in which Leonard was healthy. The Clippers went 15-14 down the stretch and had the NBA’s no. 22-ranked defense in that time. Their offense, which looked so potent earlier in the season, ranked 14th in that period.

The Clippers can’t afford to play that kind of basketball if they hope to advance past the first round. They are about to face the Dallas Mavericks in the first round for the third time in three years. Both previous series were incredibly competitive, and now, Dallas not only has a better roster thanks to the acquisition of Kyrie Irving, but has gone 15-1 with its newfound starting lineup of Irving, Luka Doncic, Daniel Gafford, Derrick Jones Jr. and P.J. Washington.

A healthy Leonard is going to be an absolute necessity for a significant postseason run, and without one, this team is facing major long-term questions. Neither James Harden nor Paul George are signed for the long haul, and no reports have indicated that coach Ty Lue has signed a long-term contract extension either. This era of Clippers basketball is very much in danger, and it needs Leonard back on the court as soon as possible.

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