LeBron James clears way as Heat top Magic
MIAMI (AP) — LeBron James caught an alley-oop flip from Dwyane Wade on a fast break, threw down a dunk and then headed up court with his arms spread like some superhero.
James can look the part, whether he’s wearing a clear mask or a black one.
Switching to a clear protective cover at the NBA’s request, James had 20 points, nine rebounds and seven assists Saturday to help the Miami Heat earn their seventh consecutive victory by beating the Orlando Magic 112-98.
James dispensed with the black mask he wore Thursday when playing for the first time since he broke his nose.
"He was a clear-mask guy tonight," teammate Chris Bosh said. "He was just a regular dude, a regular citizen of Gotham."
Wade scored 24 points and Bosh 20 for the Heat, who shot 58 percent. Eleven players scored for the Heat, and their bench totaled 39 points.
James said league officials wanted him to wear something that would allow opponents to see his face. The newer mask seemed to bother James more than the black one did, and he frequently took it off when the clock was stopped.
"It’s not comfortable," he said. "Having something on your face isn’t comfortable, but it is what it is."
While the mask was a nuisance and James’ nose remained tender, neither hindered his performance.
"It’s another challenge for a great player," coach Erik Spoelstra said. "His game is an aggressive, attacking game, and there’s going to be contact. But coming off the injury, he has been as aggressive as he was before."
James’ streak of five consecutive games with more than 30 points came to an end, but he took just 12 shots and played only 31 minutes.
"When you come out and take care of business, that’s a reward," he said.
After sitting out a week because of his broken nose, he avoided another injury when he went stumbling into the third row after making a fast-break layup and settled in an unoccupied seat.
The Heat improved to 10-1 since Feb. 1, and they’ve won their past four games by an average of 19 points.
"Defensively we’re flying around and we’re communicating," James said. "And offensively, obviously we’re playing at a high level."
The Heat completed a sweep of the four-game season series against their in-state rivals.
"They’re an efficient team, the most efficient team in the NBA," Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. "That’s done with LeBron setting up people, and you’re getting shots that you want. You’re not rushing."
The game was the first for the last-place Magic since they broke a 16-game road losing streak at Philadelphia on Wednesday. Tobias Harris led Orlando with 20 points, and Nikola Vucevic added 18.
With the Heat taking the lead for good early in the second quarter, Bosh played only 18 minutes, his lowest total since Nov. 16.
"I got a bunch of night-off jokes tonight," Bosh said. "I enjoyed it. Guys filled in and did their job."
Among the contributors off the bench was Greg Oden, playing his 11th game after being sidelined by knee trouble for 3 1/2 years. He went 3 for 3 for eight points with four rebounds in 13 minutes.
"I’m happy to be on the team," Oden said. "When I get a chance to play, I just don’t want to mess up."
Heat guard Mario Chalmers had the highlight play of the first half, fetching a loose ball while seated at midcourt with his back to his basket, then flipping a pass over his shoulder to James to set up a fast-break basket.
The Heat also got to the rim often out of their half-court offense.
"They do a good job moving the ball, driving, kicking," Vucevic said. "They make plays for each other. They’re very unselfish."
NOTES: Orlando’s Arron Afflalo missed his fourth consecutive game. He was out with a sprained ankle and is now recovering from a brief illness. … At 42-14, the Heat have tied their best start through 56 games. They had the same record a year ago, when they went on to win their second consecutive NBA title. … The Heat improved to 15-0 at home when leading at halftime.