The photographers came, and the photographers were disappointed.
A surge of local reporters poured into the Heat’s training facility Wednesday hoping to get a glimpse of LeMask, but LeBron James’ facial accessory had already been put away.
James will wear a clear protective mask Thursday if he’s cleared for action, but one day before a game against New York, it was Heat coach Erik Spoelstra strapping on a guise of sorts.
He tried to convince everybody that the Knicks are a good team.
“They haven’t forgotten how to play,” Spoelstra said. “They’ve been injury riddled all year long, and that’s extremely tough to deal with. With so many of your main guys out, that’s tough to deal with.”
The Knicks are terrible — 15 games below .500 — and untimely injuries have only been half of the problem. A leadership void persists and other issues have arisen. On Wednesday evening, the Knicks arrived in Miami with a point guard who is facing felony charges for gun possession in New York.
Starter Raymond Felton was arrested Tuesday morning and booked with three separate charges of felony weapons possession, including second-degree criminal gun possession, which brings a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 3 1/2 years in New York. According to police, Felton allegedly engaged in an argument with his wife while holding a pistol.
The Manhattan District Attorney dropped the most serious of the three felony charges, but two remain and also the possibility of time in jail. Felton’s next court date is June 2.
Barring a basketball miracle, the Knicks’ season will be over long before June. In a season when any team in the Eastern Conference with half a clue could make the playoffs, New York’s flagship franchise has gone from bad to worse and, at this point, the Knicks most likely will miss out on the postseason altogether. The Knicks are currently 11th in the East Conference standings behind the No. 8 Atlanta, No. 9 Detroit and No. 10 Cleveland.
But the Heat’s coach isn’t discounting the Knicks, despite all of the team’s problems. After all, Spoelstra has already lost once to the Knicks this season and the last time New York played at AmericanAirlines Arena, Carmelo Anthony scored 50 points.
“That type of adversity coming into our game is irrelevant,” Spoelstra said. “We’ve lost to a lot of teams that have gone through adversity and come in with losing records and they come in and play terrific against us and they’re able to get a win. So, we can throw all that out the window. They’ll be ready.
“When they have their guys, they look great.”
James, who sustained a broken nose last Thursday against the Oklahoma City Thunder, suggested the biggest problem with the Knicks this season has been the loss of Jason Kidd, the former point guard who now coaches the Brooklyn Nets.
“I think his leadership and his championship DNA was lost when he decided to retire, so that was a big blow for [New York],” James said.
Across the bridge, Kidd and the Nets are sixth in the Eastern Conference and just two games below .500. But James isn’t too concerned with soap operas of New York beyond his buddy Anthony.
“I don’t worry about [the Knicks], I worry about Carmelo Anthony and I always want him to win and I always want him to succeed,” James said. “Obviously, he has been playing great basketball, and I definitely don’t like seeing him lose the way they’ve been losing, but I don’t really care about the franchise. I’m not with them.”
As for the mask, questions from reporters were hard-hitting and insightful. Like this question posed to Dwyane Wade, for example: “Dwyane, how do you describe the look of LeBron in a mask?”
Wade: “It looked like LeBron with a mask. It looked like every other player who wears a mask. It looks weird … He looks like the LeBron who wore a mask the first time, just about 30 pounds heavier, a little bit more muscular, a little less hair.”
James said the mask is frustrating and prone to fogging, but he didn’t seem too concerned about having to wear it.
“I’ve been talking to Marvel Comics and D.C. Comics for the last couple days and trying to come up with one of the greatest masks of all time, so we’ll see what happens,” James said.