LeBron James was unhindered by the carbon-fiber mask he wore to protect his broken nose, returning to action after one game out and scoring 31 points to lead the Miami Heat to a 108-82 victory over the New York Knicks.
James had asked for the protective equipment after missing the Heat's previous game, a 93-79 victory Sunday over the Chicago Bulls.
The four-time league MVP scored 31 points on 13 of 19 shooting Thursday night at American Airlines Arena, while sidekick Dwayne Wade added 23 points.
The Heat broke the game wide open in the third quarter, outscoring the reeling Knicks 32-14 to push their lead to 23 points and never looking back.
New York had a 14-3 edge on the offensive glass, with Knicks center Tyson Chandler hauling down six of those boards, but the Heat more than made up for that discrepancy with their superior offensive efficiency.
For the game the Heat (41-14) shot 60.8 percent from the field compared to 37.3 percent for the Knicks (21-37).
"I tried to put pressure on the defense, tried to make plays and I was happy to be back on the floor," James said afterward, adding that he did not like playing with the mask but would have to figure out how to feel comfortable with it.
The Heat, however, were unable to make up ground Thursday on the Eastern Conference-leading Indiana Pacers, who defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 101-96 to hold on to their slim two-game lead over the two-time NBA champions.
In other action in the NBA Thursday, the Washington Wizards defeated the Toronto Raptors 134-129 in triple overtime and the Brooklyn Nets trounced the Denver Nuggets 112-89. EFE