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CAVALIERS James' status still up in the air



Published: Mon, January 3, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Coach Silas says it's all up to his star player if he wants to play tonight.

CLEVELAND (AP) -- LeBron James was fitted with a mask to protect his broken left cheek on Sunday and only shot during practice as the Cleveland Cavaliers prepared to play at Charlotte tonight.

James, who suffered a facial fracture and concussion when he collided with Houston center Dikembe Mutombo's elbow on Wednesday night, did not accompany the team Sunday on its trip to North Carolina.

However, the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year is expected to join the Cavaliers and he may still play against the expansion Bobcats tonight.

"It will be a game time decision, his decision," Cavs coach Paul Silas said. "It's all up to him, if he thinks he can play, he'll play. There's still a little bit of swelling, but it is down substantially."

James spent part of Sunday morning at the Cleveland Clinic, where he was measured for a plastic mask that he'll be required to wear until the fracture heals.

What happened

The second-year star spoke to the press for the first time since he was accidentally leveled by Mutombo as he moved across the foul lane trying to steal a pass.

"I feel a lot better, there's still a little pain but that's nothing," said James, who turned 20 on Thursday. "It was one of the hardest hits I ever took. I've never felt anything like that."

James immediately crumbled to the floor. He writhed in pain for several minutes before walking woozily to the locker room. Almost as quickly as he went down, James realized he was seriously hurt.

"I knew something was wrong with my face because I've never felt something like that before," he said. "I didn't know if it was my temple or my jaw, I just knew it was the left side of my face, I knew something was wrong. I got a concussion, that was my first time doing that."

James still has stiffness in his face and said he won't rush back if he doesn't feel like himself. The Cavaliers play at home on Wednesday and Saturday.

"It's still up in the air," James said of his return. "I'm going to take my time. If I feel like I'm ready to play tomorrow, I'll play. If not, I'll just wait."

He's done it all

James has done everything this season for the first-place Cavaliers (17-12), who entered 2005 with a 1 1/2-game lead over Detroit and Indiana in the Central Division. He's averaging 24.4 points, 7.0 rebounds and 7.2 assists.

As much as Silas would love for James not to miss any games, he's confident his team can keep it together until James returns.

"Without LeBron we're not a very good team," he said. "It's the truth. It's an upbeat mood, we had a real good practice, we're going to win with or without him."

If James doesn't play, Lucious Harris will likely start at small forward.




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