While everyone wants to talk about LeBron James’ new protective mask, it’s important not to forget about the Miami Heat’s recent play.
James tries to lead the Heat to a seventh consecutive win and ninth in a row over the visiting Orlando Magic on Saturday night.
Playing with a dark carbon-fiber mask to protect his broken nose, James stayed hot with 31 points in Thursday’s 108-82 rout of New York. The four-time NBA MVP sat out the previous game after sustaining the injury in last Thursday’s 103-81 win at Oklahoma City.
Coach Erik Spoelstra called James’ new look "menacing".
"For me as a basketball player, I want to be menacing on the court," James said afterward. "I tried to put pressure on the defense, tried to make plays and I was happy to be back on the floor.
"As much as I don’t like it, I have to figure out how to make it work."
The Southeast Division-leading Heat (41-14) have won 12 of 14, including their last six by an average of 13.3 points. Miami has held teams to 92.5 points per game during that stretch, and none of its last four opponents have shot over 40.0 percent.
James is averaging 35.8 points while shooting 62.5 percent during the run.
"We’re playing good ball, and we want to continue that. We’re in a good groove right now," James said. "For us, we’ve always appreciated the process – every month we want to continue to get better, and I think we’ve done that.
"We’ve got a very young, inspiring team on Saturday. Coming into our building, division opponent, we look forward to it."
The Heat continue to have their way with the Magic (18-42), taking all three meetings this season by an average of 15.3 points. James has posted relatively pedestrian numbers in those games, averaging 19.3 points while shooting 45.9 percent – his second-lowest mark against any team in 2013-14.
Dwyane Wade, meanwhile, has scored 27.8 points per game versus Orlando for his highest average against any opponent. He’s averaged 23.5 in the last two meetings, well above his season mark of 18.9.
The Magic had dropped a franchise worst-tying 16 consecutive road games before winning 101-90 at lowly Philadelphia on Wednesday. Nikola Vucevic had 21 points and 13 rebounds, Victor Oladipo added 17 and 11 and Jameer Nelson scored 16 to go along with 12 assists.
Orlando held a 55-42 edge on the glass and limited the 76ers to 36.8 percent shooting.
"It doesn’t matter who it is – all 30 teams – when you can go to an opposing venue and get a win it speaks to your preparation and guys doing the right things over the course of the game," coach Jacque Vaughn told the team’s official website. "We did some good things and we stayed together. That’s the most important thing when you are on the road."
The Magic are 4-1 away from home when allowing fewer than 93 points compared to 0-26 when they don’t. Miami has scored at least 93 in each of its 26 home games, going 22-4 while averaging 106.3.
"We’re playing against one of the best teams in the NBA," Magic forward Tobias Harris said. "We know what to expect, we know it’s going to be a battle."
The Magic could have an even harder time keeping up without Arron Afflalo, who is expected to miss a fourth consecutive game with a sprained ankle. Afflalo is averaging a team-leading 19.7 points.