James admits that he was happy to be back despite dislike for mask.
There were four games on the NBA schedule on Thursday night, with a masked LeBron James helping the Miami Heat secure a sixth straight victory.
Having sustained a broken nose last week, the 29-year-old wore a dark carbon-fibre mask for protection and as Heat coach Erik Spoelstra described it as a “menacing” look, James scored 31 points to leave a rattled Knicks with another loss.
“I tried to put pressure on the defense, tried to make plays and I was happy to be back on the floor,” said James.
It was fifth consecutive game that James has topped 30 points, and while Dwyane Wade added 23 points, it was a sixth straight win for the reigning champions with their star player revealing that he will continue to wear the mask for the next couple of weeks, at least.
Carmelo Anthony scored 29 points for New York but went cold in the final 20 minutes of play, while Tyson Chandler had 19 points and 16 rebounds and J.R. Smith added 11 points but it wasn’t enough to avoid a 2-10 record through February.
“We crumbled,” Anthony said. “It got out of hand.” With frustration clearly growing within the Knicks camp, their slim chances of making the playoffs appear to be dwindling with each passing game, and defeat.
Elsewhere, the Indiana Pacers also picked up a win to maintain their slender lead at the top of the Eastern Conference, with Roy Hibbert going for 24 points and 12 rebounds while Paul George and Lance Stephenson each scored 18.
The Pacers, now 44-13 overall and a league-best 28-3 at home, blew a 17-point lead in the first half as suggestions of complacency and fatigue are growing, but they were ultimately too strong for the Milwaukee Bucks who remain rooted to the bottom of the conference.
There were two more winners in the East on Thursday, with the Washington Wizards sealing a fifth straight win after a gruelling triple overtime victory against the Toronto Raptors.
It was the longest game by time in Raptors franchise history at three hours and 22 minutes, with Wizards star Trevor Ariza conducting his post-game interviews with his midnight snack and admitting that he was “just totally drained”.
Even watching was a difficult task as Washington coach Randy Wittman suggested that his feet and back were hurting despite not even playing, but what he did see from his team was a great resiliency as Marcin Gortat finished with a career-best 31 points and 12 rebounds.
John Wall also had 31 points while DeMar DeRozan was forced to step up with 34 in reply after point guard Kyle Lowry fouled out after 54 minutes with 18 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds while Amir Johnson and Terrence Ross left early too with foul trouble and injury respectively.
In the final game of the night, the Brooklyn Nets inflicted more misery on the Denver Nuggets by bouncing back from their own rout with a comprehensive win.
Having lost by 44 points on Wednesday, the Nets “looked fresh” according to Jason Kidd who would have been eager to see a response, and a response he received as Paul Pierce scored 18 points and had six rebounds to lead Brooklyn to the win.