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LeBron gives mask a try in practice

MIAMI (AP) - LeBron James says his new protective mask is hot, uncomfortable and prone to fogging up. Plus, as teammate Dwyane Wade pointed out, it looks weird.

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So James is in the market for design suggestions.

''I've been talking to Marvel Comics for the last couple of days, and DC Comics, to try to come up with one of the greatest masks of all time,'' James said with a chuckle Wednesday. ''So we'll see what happens.''

James spoke after trying out his new mask for the first time in practice. He plans to use it Thursday when the Miami Heat play the New York Knicks.

The game will be the first for James since he broke his nose last Thursday in a victory at Oklahoma City. He and his mask took part in contact drills Wednesday, and coach Erik Spoelstra was encouraged by James' progress.

''He'll give it a shot Thursday,'' Spoelstra said. ''He was able to go through today without any hiccups. But he also didn't take a hit today.''

Given James' aggressive style of play, he's bound to receive an inadvertent blow to the face sooner or later. Thus the mask.

''It lessens the impact,'' said James, who wore a mask 10 years ago to protect a broken cheek. ''You can still feel it, because the nose is still tender. But it definitely lessens the pain.''

James had removed his clear mask by the time media were admitted to the gym for the end of practice, but teammates provided a description.

''He looked like every other player in a mask - it looks weird,'' Wade said. ''He looks like the LeBron that wore a mask the first time, only about 30 pounds heavier, a little more muscular, a little less hair.''

Said Shane Battier with a grin: ''As long as No. 6 is in uniform, he looks all right to me.''

James was on a roll when hurt. On Thursday he'll try for his fifth consecutive 30-point game, which would be the second-longest such streak in Heat history.

The Heat have won five consecutive games and trail Eastern Conference leader Indiana by one game. But they've been prone to stumble against weak opponents, and their next three games are at home against team with losing records - the Knicks, Magic and Bobcats.

Nine of the Heat's 14 defeats, including one against the Knicks, have come versus teams that are below .500.

''You don't want to lose to the good teams. And you don't want to lose to the teams that aren't as good,'' Wade said. ''So then you would be 82-0. You've got to lose to somebody. You can't play your A game for 82 games, so you have some of those moments. It happens to every team. We're no different.''

Lately the two-time defending NBA champions have been consistently on their A game, in part because of stout defense. They held Oklahoma City to 81 points, which tied the Thunder's season low, then held Chicago to 79 in a victory Sunday as an antsy James watched from the bench.

The injury-plagued Knicks have lost their past three games, and in their season of upheaval, the latest jarring development came Tuesday. Point guard Raymond Felton was arraigned on two felony weapons possession charges following an early-morning arrest.

After going 54-28 last season, the Knicks are 21-36.

''They haven't forgotten how to play,'' Spoelstra said. ''They've been injury-riddled all year long, and that's tough to deal with. That adversity coming into our game is irrelevant. I'm sure they'll be ready.''

The Knicks split two games earlier this season against Miami, and they're one of the few teams with a player who can match James basket for basket. Carmelo Anthony has scored more than 40 points in three of the past four games.

James said he's sorry to see his friend endure such a difficult season in the standings.

''I want him to win, and I want him to succeed,'' James said. ''Obviously he has been playing great basketball, but I definitely don't like seeing him lose the way they've been losing.''

---

Follow Steven Wine on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Steve-Wine

AP NEWS
The Associated Press News Service

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The Associated Press
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