Ty Lue says Clippers preparing as if Kawhi Leonard will play in Game 1, but can he?

Clippers coach Tyronn Lue talks with forward Kawhi Leonard (2).

As coach Ty Lue prepared his Clippers this week to face the Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs Sunday, he was asked if part of his game plan included not having Kawhi Leonard in Game 1.

“No, I’m preparing for him, to have him on the court,” Lue said before practice Wednesday.

That was the strongest statement Lue has made yet about Leonard’s availability, even though it wasn't a full declaration that his star would play in the first game of the first-round best-of-seven series.

Leonard missed the last eight regular-season games with right-knee inflammation.

He has been limited in practice Tuesday and Wednesday.

Lue was asked if all goes well with Leonard ramping up at the practices means his best player is a go for the first game.

“Yeah, not sure yet,” Lue said. “Just like I said, letting medical take over and you know, whatever is the best thing for Kawhi, making sure you protect him first. But whatever is best for him is what we're going to do. Not sure of the minutes yet, or how long he'll be able to play. So we're just, we just kind of wait and take it day by day.”

Read more: Boban Marjanovic wanted Clippers fans to 'eat mor chikin' for free, so he missed foul shot

Bottom line, Lue was asked, is Leonard playing Sunday?

We don't know yet,” Lue said.

Before the Clippers practiced, Lue was asked what he expected Leonard to do, considering he practiced some Tuesday.

“We'll see once we talk to medical and see how he came out yesterday,” Lue said. “We'll let you know tomorrow.”

Lue said Leonard looked "OK" during practice Tuesday.

“No five-on-five,” Lue said about what Leonard didn’t do at practice.

Lue likes to play small-ball at times with his team but if Leonard is not able to play, the coach was asked how that would affect the strategy.

Clippers coach Ty Lue gives direction from the sideline.
Coach Ty Lue admits that if Kawhi Leonard cannot play because of his knee injury, the Clippers likely will have to abandon their small-ball lineup. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

“Yeah, I mean, because Kawhi is one of our best defenders and one of our best rebounders,” Lue said. “And so when he's not on the floor, it's kind of hard to play small because you don't have an advantage. And especially, you know, we're running pick and rolls, like he's getting the switch, teams double team and fire, which creates, you know, other triggers for us.

“And so, when he's not on the floor, we don't have the same luxury, you know, so it's hard to play small when he's not on the floor.”

So, again, Lue was asked if Leonard would play Sunday.

“We are taking it day by day,” Lue said.

Lue apologized for his tone regarding all the questions surrounding Leonard.

“And sorry I get frustrated with Kawhi questions,” Lue said. “But I know it's your guys' job. But like I said we just take it day by day. He's progressing. He's getting better. We don't have a timetable. ... I know it's your job to ask a question about Kawhi, so I apologize for getting frustrated. But he's taking it day by day. He's getting better. And, we'll see how he continues to progress. Thank you.”

Read more: Lakers beat Pelicans, advance to face Nuggets in the playoffs

When Norman Powell was asked about how Leonard looked in practice, his response was to “ask Lue that question again.”

That’s how it goes in Clipperland with Leonard. Powell was asked if he talked to Leonard in practice Tuesday.

“Yeah, I talked to him,” Powell said. “But like I said, that’s his lane and I let the organization and the coach talk about the status of Kawhi.”

Lue was more than willing to share his feeling on Leonard being selected to play for USA Basketball in the Olympics in Paris.

“It was a great reaction,” said Lue, who is an assistant coach for USA Basketball. “I think his first time playing, having an opportunity to be on the USA team is big, to be able to represent your country and so just excited he decided to do it and excited that he made it.“

Sign up for the L.A. Times SoCal high school sports newsletter to get scores, stories and a behind-the-scenes look at what makes prep sports so popular.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.