Miami Heat

Miami Heat’s LeBron James makes masked debut

Looking like some kind of masked avenger, LeBron James wore a black facial guard on Thursday night to protect his broken nose during a game against the New York Knicks.

James fractured his nose last week against the Thunder and sat out Sunday’s game against the Bulls. After several days of worrying about how his new mask would affect his game, James showed no signs of discomfort or fatigue and didn’t appear to be limited in any way. He scored 11 points in the game’s first 11 minutes.

Before the game, James said it was never a sure thing that he would play against the Knicks. Trainers made the final decision to activate the back-to-back MVP about an hour before tipoff.

“I didn’t know all along, but I was targeting for Thursday,” James said. “I didn’t want to sit out Sunday, but it was the smartest thing to do for not only myself but our team. The staff said I should just get some more time and let the nose heal more, so [I] targeted [Thursday], and I’m happy to be out there.”

It’s unclear how long James will wear the mask, but it’s possible he could finish the season with it. The mask certainly didn’t affect James’ shooting against the Knicks. He started the game 4 for 4 from the field.

“The good thing is I don’t have to put pressure on myself,” James said before the game. “I’ve got Hall of Famers on my team, and guys who can make plays, so I can kind of get a feel for it.”

James’ biggest concern with his mask before the game was a reduction in his peripheral vision.

“The docs and the people I went to did a great job of trying to carve it out as much as possible,” James said. “Obviously, they couldn’t take all of it away, so that’s going to be one of the biggest challenges for me, and also just having something on my face.”

“Any little rest I can get, I can always benefit from it,” James said. “I was able to get this week and kind of get my legs under me.”

butler available

Former Heat player Caron Butler was bought out Thursday by the Milwaukee Bucks, making him available to contenders in need of quality depth off the bench. The Heat is an obvious landing spot, but the Thunder is also in play. Dwyane Wade avoided the topic before the game.

“He’s one of my best friends,” Wade said. “I always talk to him, and that’s all you get. I don’t talk about it.”

The Heat could release either Toney Douglas or DeAndre Liggins to make room for Butler.

bosh sounds off

Chris Bosh has never been one to ride the fence on social issues. On Wednesday, he weighed in on the growing sentiment in professional sports leagues to ban the use of derogatory slurs.

Bosh said the N-word is most often used during NBA games as a friendly gesture, but that shouldn’t excuse the use of the word. The NFL is considering penalties for teams whose players use slurs during games, and Bosh said it would be a good idea for the NBA to do the same, but if the NBA is going to ban one slur, it needs to ban all inappropriate language.

“It’s a very tough situation,” Bosh said. “If that’s the case, they should ban all slurs. And I know it’s a big deal, because I think that word is used too much, especially in the mainstream nowadays.”

Unlike the NFL, the NBA is not currently considering in-game penalties for offensive language. NBA players have been fined in the past for the use of derogatory or offensive language. Bosh said social acceptance of some slurs makes the issue somewhat confusing.

“It’s in mainstream America now,” Bosh said. “And a lot of people say, ‘Aw, I’m not a racist because I used it in a friendly way.’

“It’s like I said — if you’re going to [penalize] one word, then put them all in there. Use every slur, every negative curse word, if you will, and that will simplify it a little bit.”

PATIENCE with oden

It’s easy to watch Greg Oden dominate the paint for a few minutes every game and fantasize about him playing a larger role for the Heat or perhaps even start in a newly configured lineup.

To those ideas, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is preaching patience — even maybe to his own coaching staff.

“The biggest thing, and we always continue to remind ourselves, is look at how far he has come,” Spoelstra said. “Let’s all keep perspective on that, and that’s including the staff. Because you can see what he can bring to the table, and you immediately start to think more, but that can’t be in our vocabulary right now. The fact that he’s available and in uniform is the biggest victory of all right now.”

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