PLAYA VISTA, CA — The Los Angeles Clippers are going to rely heavily on Paul George and James Harden to carry them as the team is set to begin its first round playoff series against Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks without Kawhi Leonard.

As of Saturday, the two-time champion and two-time NBA Finals MVP has not participated in a full practice with the Clippers yet, has yet to take contact, and is being limited to shooting with movement, according to head coach Tyronn Lue. With a 12:30PM tipoff scheduled for Game 1, Leonard is likely to miss Game 1. Additionally, Lue says he has a replacement in mind in the event Kawhi is unable to play Game 1.

Even with the possibility of not having Kawhi Leonard, the team has been, ‘locked in,' according to both Paul George and James Harden.

“I think we've been locked in as a group,” Paul George said during his availability on Sunday. “We definitely know what our job is and how we want to handle this matchup. So the preparation, I think, has been really good going into it.”

The fact that Leonard's availability is in doubt will put a lot on the shoulders of Paul George and James Harden, two players who could potentially hit free agency this summer. While both players are widely expected to re-sign with the Clippers, the door has remained open for any number of possibilities, especially with regards to Paul George.

Back on January 10, 2024, Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers agreed to a three-year, $150 million contract extension that would keep him in Los Angeles through the 2026-27 season. Shortly after, Paul George said he was optimistic that he and the organization would agree to a contract extension to lock himself at home as well.

“Yeah, I mean, absolutely,” George said on January 10. “You secure and lock in Kawhi. Definitely leaves the door open for myself, but very, very optimistic something will get done on my behalf, as well.”

When asked a follow up about his own negotiations, George said, “Yeah, we’re working through it. We’re working through it.”

Exactly one month later, on February 10th, George added, ‘that's the goal,' when asked if he still planned to sign an extension.

Well, with the playoffs set to begin on Sunday, George is set to be the Clippers' number one option and he's doing so without the extension he and the Clippers said they had mutual interest in getting done.

When asked about where those talks stand, George did not want to talk about it.

“That's not where I'm at mentally right now.”

A follow up asking if those talks have been tabled until the postseason is over resulted in George getting up and leaving while saying, ‘Thank you guys. Appreciate it.' To George's credit, a member of Clippers PR said, ‘last question,' before the final question was asked, but it still appeared to frustrate George. And while the timing of the questions were not ideal, George was requested by media following the April 12th home game against the Utah Jazz to ask about the status of the extension talks, but was not made available. Saturday was the first time he was made available since the Clippers defeated the Suns in Phoenix on April 9th.

After two straight years of being unable to play in the postseason, Paul George will enter this postseason healthy and ready to lead his Clippers.

“It's just great,” George said. “Anytime you can be healthy and for myself, not being available the past couple years really stings when you're watching the team go on and you just can't be out there and be there with them. So it's very important for me at this time to be healthy, more so to finish the year, play the most I’ve played in a Clippers jersey and then be available postseason. It is definitely a win for me. But obviously it's about that next step.”

George is primed for a strong postseason. He's coming off a career-year where he shot 47.1 percent from the field, 41.3 percent from three, and 90.7 percent from the free throw line. Those percentages are all career-highs across the board for George, who also averaged 22.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.5 steals per game in 33.8 minutes per game.

According to Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report, George is eligible to sign a max extension for as much as $221,088,000 over four years. If that offer was on the table, it would've been signed by now.

George is eligible to sign any extension with the team until June 30th, and also has a player option worth $48.8 million for the 2024-25 season. It remains to be seen how this transpires, but this postseason could be significant for George depending on his play and Kawhi Leonard's availability.

“I've got the same responsibility I've been had when Kawhi's been down,” George said Saturday.

“We've always known we've got enough to win regardless of who's in and out. This is a very talented group, so we know we're capable of winning and playing good basketball. Obviously when you think of the big picture and what we are trying to do in the long term, we would love to be fully healthy down the road, but I think as of now, I think we've got enough to go out and win and kind of just remain solid until we are full force. But I like where we're at. I think we're greatly prepared and again, it's been no difference. We played with guys being in and out of lineups throughout the whole season, so I think we're good when it comes to kind of just holding it together and doing our part to win games.”

Game 1 between the LA Clippers and Dallas Mavs will tip off at 12:30PM PST on ABC.