PLAYA VISTA, CA – The Los Angeles Clippers are still riding the wave of uncertainty as their playoff series against Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks is set to begin on Sunday afternoon. Will Kawhi Leonard play in Game 1 against the Mavs?

Ahead of Game 1 on Sunday, Clippers President of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank made a surprise speaking appearance in front of media members before the team's practice to quell some of the uncertainty regarding Kawhi Leonard and his right knee inflammation.

“Obviously, Kawhi has been dealing with inflammation for almost three weeks in his right knee,” Frank explained to media members. “He's doing everything and our medical staff is doing everything to get the inflammation down so he can play. Progress has been made, but the inflammation needs to continue to reduce so he can do functional basketball movements.”

Kawhi Leonard played his last game on March 31st against the Charlotte Hornets and has been out ever since. He missed eight straight games to close out the regular season, including a couple of important ones against the Denver Nuggets, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Phoenix Suns.

Fortunately, this Clippers team was able to secure wins without him en route to home-court advantage in the first round.

With mere days before the Clippers and Mavs tip off their series, however, Leonard is not and has not been doing ‘functional basketball movements,' for three weeks. Unfortunately, it doesn't sound like Leonard is close a return just yet, although things could change rapidly, says Frank.

“We're hopeful it's going to get there,” Lawrence Frank continued. “In terms of practice participation, he's able to do all the mental preparation part of it, the film study, the personnel review. He hasn't done any contact and we'll just take it day by day. I know from your guys' standpoint, you guys have to ask the questions. The one thing I would share with you is that inflammation's unpredictable, so we'd love to have a crystal ball and Kawhi would love to have a crystal ball and know exactly on this day, but just you just control what you can control and hopefully the inflammation reduces in a short amount of time and he's back on the court. That’s the goal.”

As the team closed out the regular season and entered this week of practice, many around the team expressed optimism that Leonard's knee issue was not something of significant concern and expected him to return for the postseason. Even Tyronn Lue said at Wednesday's practice that he's preparing his game-plan as if Kawhi Leonard will be available for Game 1.

So as of Thursday afternoon, however, the inflammation has not subsided enough for Leonard to make functional basketball movements, and he's solely participating in the ‘mental preparation' with no on-court activities or contact work.

That optimism surrounding Leonard's availability for Game 1 has certainly tempered as the Clippers prepare to take on Luka Doncic and the Mavs on Sunday afternoon.

With most of the team having not played significant basketball in over a week, head coach Tyronn Lue had the team scrimmage on Wednesday. It's not something he'd normally do, but something he felt they needed to get through. He then gave the team Friday off before they return for one final practice on Saturday.

During Saturday's availability, head coach Tyronn Lue says Kawhi Leonard has been shooting with more movement and would continue to do the same during the final day of practice. Leonard would not take contact on Saturday, but would be listed as ‘questionable' for Sunday's Game 1.

At this stage however, it's feeling increasingly unlikely that Kawhi Leonard plays in Game 1. Paul George, however, did say he believed the Clippers would get Leonard back at some point.

“Injuries happen, that's part of the game and there's no way of really avoiding it,” Paul George said Saturday. “As much as chemistry and being on the floor together and playing the best basketball you could possibly play at this point of the season [matters], a lot of it has to do with luck too. And I think from the injury standpoint, we've just been unlucky on remaining healthy, but again, more so focused on a positive and do think at some point he'll be with us.”

During his availability on Thursday, Lawrence Frank said the ramp-up process for Leonard would mean progressing to on-court work.

“I think with it is you start with on-court work and then you continue to build up on it and you get to a point where both from first from Kawhi's standpoint and then from a medical standpoint, we are comfortable where he can play in a high level playoff game that we all know the intensity level that's required in those games.”

Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul George (13, left) and forward Kawhi Leonard (2, center) and guard James Harden (1, right) watch the game from the bench during the third quarter against the Utah Jazz at Arena.
Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

Additionally, Frank mentioned that Leonard's knee is structurally sound and there's no damage to any of the ligaments, such as the surgically repaired ACL from 2021 or the surgically repaired meniscus from 2023.

“Everything structurally is in a really, really good place. So this is just some very, very stubborn inflammation.

“We would never put Kawhi or anyone on the court if there's grave risk or there's risk for future injury that's easily predictable, we're hopeful that this inflammation that will get it reduced and he'll be back on the court as quickly as possible. But like I said, you can't predict something that's unpredictable.”

At this point, the good news is that Kawhi Leonard is not dealing with any kind of tear that could hold him out for an extended period of time. The bad news, as Lawrence Frank put it, is that the inflammation is unpredictable, making any sort of timeline for a return hard to gauge.

One thing's for sure: the mystery surrounding Leonard's status was not a case of gamesmanship on the Clippers end.

“There is no gamesmanship here,” said Frank. We're very sensitive of the fact that questions are going to be asked and want to be as transparent as possible. And also it's okay 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. Look, there's no one who's more frustrated than Kawhi, who desperately wants to be out there to play — and you just control what you can control.”

The Clippers are going through one final practice on Saturday in preparation for Sunday's Game 1. Everyone outside of Kawhi Leonard has been a full-go at practice, and the Clippers will lean heavily on Paul George as well as James Harden if Leonard is unable to suit up in Game 1.

Head coach Tyronn Lue even mentioned that he's already got a replacement in mind if Kawhi Leonard is unable to play, and he's expecting to use a rotation of eight or nine players in the first two games of the series.

Meanwhile, Luka Doncic, Kyrie Irving, and the Mavs are all healthy and expected to suit up, although final word will come through the NBA's injury report on Saturday evening. Dereck Lively II, who missed the final eight regular season games for the Mavs, practiced this week and is trending towards being available in Game 1, Joey Mistretta of ClutchPoints reports.

Game 1 between the Clippers and Mavs is set to tip off this Sunday at 12:30PM PST on ABC.