It's been two weeks since LeBron James suffered a broken nose at the hand (well, the arm, really) of Oklahoma City Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka during a nationally televised Thursday night Miami Heat road win. After sitting out a victory over the Chicago Bulls, James returned for a second nationally televised Thursday night matchup with the New York Knicks clad in a fearsome black mask, and promptly dropped 31 points in 36 1/2 minutes as Miami crushed the Knicks. He switched to a clear-plastic mask at the league's request, and responded by pouring in a career-high 61 points in a win over the Charlotte Bobcats. He's been pretty darn good in the mask, averaging 33.5 points, 5.5 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals over four face-covered games, shooting 63.4 percent from the floor and 52.9 percent from 3-point land.
After getting clocked in the face by Dwight Howard during Tuesday's loss to the Houston Rockets, James was reportedly supposed to wear his face mask for another week ... but after starting out 1 for 3 from the floor through the first 7 1/2 minutes of yet another nationally televised Thursday game, this time against Miami's 2013 NBA Finals foils, the San Antonio Spurs, James decided to jettison the shield:
James went on to miss his next three shot attempts. (He probably had a hard time adjusting to different levels of wind resistance.)
After a first quarter in which Miami dug itself a 15-point hole by allowed 37 points on 15 for 19 shooting to the red-hot Spurs, TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager asked Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra iif he was concerned about James shedding the mask.
"I don't care," Spoelstra said. "I want us to play better on [the defensive] end."
That seems like a pretty solid take, Coach.
James' offensive stuggles continued without the mask, as the Spurs brought back their Finals game plan ot building walls in front of him to prevent penetration and force him to take jump shots. While James found his touch late in the Finals, he had no such luck on Thursday, making just six of his 18 field-goal attempts and finishing with 19 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and five turnovers in 38 minutes. Miami struggled from the field as a team, shooting just 43 percent from the floor and just 4 for 13 from 3-point land.
After the game, James attributed his poor shooting night partially to the sleeved Noche Latina jerseys the Heat wore. The Spurs, oddly enough, didn't seem similarly encumbered, as they shot 50 percent from the field and went 9 for 23 from 3-point range, roaring to a 111-87 victory led by 23 points on 9 for 13 shooting, 11 rebounds and two assists from Tim Duncan, 17 points and four assists from Tony Parker, and a pretty brilliant all-around effort from Boris Diaw (16 points on perfect 5 for 5 shooting, eight rebounds, five assists and a steal in 37 minutes). Maybe the white sleeved jerseys are less restrictive than the black ones. Yeah, that's the ticket.
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