Nothing is slowing down the Heat at this point in the season — not broken noses, not masks and certainly not the broken New York Knicks and their masquerading excuse for a basketball team.
With LeBron James back in the lineup after suffering a broken nose last week, the Heat made easy work of the struggling Knicks, defeating Carmelo Anthony’s team 108-82 on Thursday at AmericanAirlines Arena. James waited until the lights were dimmed for player introductions to reveal his protective black mask. The scene played like some kind of hardwood adaptation of Phantom of the Opera.
And that was pretty much the only compelling scene on a night when the Heat shot 60.8 from the field, James outscored Anthony 31-29 and the Knicks — the dreadful, embarrassing Knicks (21-37) — allowed 66 points in the paint, went 31 of 83 from the field overall (37.3 percent) and made just 4 of 23 attempts from three-point range.
The Heat went 9-1 in the month of February and playing its best basketball of the season. James subbed out of the game with 6:49 left in the fourth quarter and the Heat leading by 28 points. He was 13 of 19 from the field, 1 of 2 from three-point range and 4 of 6 from the free-throw line to go along with four assists and four rebounds.
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Heat reserve guard called the James mask “swag” and Chris Bosh said James “played like Batman.”
“The most important thing was his aggressiveness tonight,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of James. “He wasn’t going to let an injury or a mask or anything take away from his assertiveness.”
James has scored at least 30 points in five straight games and is now averaging 27.0 points per game for the season.
As for the mask, Spoelstra called it “menacing.”
“I liked the look of it,” he said.
James said he went with a black, carbon-fiber design for his mask because it weighed less than the traditional, clear variety and it also went with the Heat’s black, throwback uniforms.
“Me as a basketball player, I try to be menacing on the court,” James said. “But I’m not menacing now. I’m going to go home, see my kids and get back to daddy duties, but I tried to put pressure on the defense, make plays and I was happy to back on the floor after missing a game.”
Amid his best stretch of the season, Dwyane Wade was once again active offensively and finished the game with 23 points. He was 10 of 13 from the field, including 7-of-10 shooting in the first half. With James somewhat tentative to begin the game, Wade went deep into his repertoire of moves with a first half featuring a running hook shot and a driving Euro-step against Tim Hardaway Jr.
“The last three weeks have been terrific for [Wade] in his training and everything he’s done behind the scenes,” Spoelstra said.
In his first game at AmericanAirlines Arena as a professional, Hardaway Jr., the son the Heat legend, went 2 of 14 from the field for six points. He was outplayed by Heat reserve guard Norris Cole, who went 5 of 9 from the field for 11 points.
The only bright spot for the Knicks this season has been the play of Anthony, the high-volume scorer and close friend of James. Anthony had 24 points in the first half, and the Knicks trailed by only five points, but the one-man scoring machine couldn’t keep up the pace. He finished the game 11 of 20 from the field, 3 of 8 from three-point range and 4 of 6 from the free-throw line.
In its last three games, the Heat (41-14) has held opponents to around 80 points. The Thunder managed just 81 points and the Bulls scored 79 points.
“That’s how we win games,” Wade said of the Heat’s defense. “When our defensive pressure, our rotations and everything is on point, it’s an easier way to play the game for us and it obviously makes the offensive end so much more easier for us. That’s Miami Heat basketball.”
An alley-oop dunk by Tyson Chandler from Pablo Prigioni cut the Heat’s lead to 61-59 less than four minutes into the second half, but the easily rebuilt its lead. A nifty scooping layup by Mario Chalmers gave the Heat an eight-point lead and a cutting dunk by James on an assist by Shane Battier put Miami ahead by 11. Wade then gave the Heat a 14-point lead with more artistry inside.
Chalmers scored 11 points in 20 minutes and Battier was the only Heat player to make more than one three-pointer. He was 2 of 4 from distance. Chris Bosh had six points in 24 minutes and was thoroughly outplayed by Knicks center Tyson Chandler, who scored 19 points and had 16 rebounds.
Another cutting move by James — this time with an assist from Norris Cole — put the Heat up by 20 points with 1:30 to play in the third quarter. Seconds later, Ray Allen made a three-pointer from the corner to begin the celebration. After a timeout, Chris Andersen swatted away a spinning layup attempt by Hardaway Jr. and the rout of rival New York was officially under way.