Even before the Miami Heat took flight late Thursday night, LeBron James was preparing for his next superhero turn.
This time, apparently as a villain.
One, the Heat announced Friday, who has a broken nose and is a game-time decision for Sunday's 3:30 p.m. game against the Chicago Bulls at AmericanAirlines Arena.
His nose plugged with white gauze after taking a hard blow to the face from Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka while completing a dunk in Thursday night's victory, James took to Instagram, where he posted a doctored photo of him wearing the mask of Bane, the Batman antagonist from the 2012 movie "The Dark Knight Rises."
"I mean I just might have to . . . BaneJames #StriveForGreatness," James posted alongside the photo.
Then came Friday's doctor appointment back in South Florida. Now the questions are when he returns and what he might look like when he does.
James previously had to play with a protective mask while playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2005, after sustaining a broken cheekbone in a collision with Houston Rockets center Dikembe Mutombo. James briefly lost consciousness during that collision, which was far more severe than Thursday's contact.
Of playing with a mask then, James said at the time, "I can't afford to be out there timid. It doesn't matter if I've got a mask on or if I don't. I've just got to be aggressive."
James was forced out of Thursday's game for good in the fourth quarter, closing with 33 points. He then passed a concussion test prior to the conclusion of the game.
"He took a shot. He got hit pretty good though in the nose," coach Erik Spoelstra said, with James unavailable for comment both Thursday and Friday. "I'm like everybody else, you're used to seeing him like Superman, get up and sprint back even after tough hits and tough falls. So we knew something was up."
No foul was called on the play, with James falling to the court along the baseline, bleeding.
"He goes up and gets hit in the face, and then he goes up and finishes," center Chris Bosh marveled of his teammate. "He's the biggest, strongest athlete in the league."
Before going out, James continued to win over converts in his bid to push past MVP front-runner Kevin Durant, the Thunder forward.
But TNT analyst Reggie Miller said rings are what will continue to define James.
"The only way LeBron is being judged now is by championships," Miller said. "So there is more pressure on LeBron James because he's trying to catch Michael [Jordan] and Kobe [Bryant]. Right now, Kevin Durant is trying to find himself and trying to win his first MVP and championship."
Miller said the Heat's swagger remains evident, to the point where they again are carrying themselves as championship favorites.
"They feel they are," he said. "They're back-to-back champs and they've got the best player on the planet in LeBron James."
That said, Miller, the former Indiana Pacers shooting star, said, "Indiana isn't going away. They bolstered their team bringing in Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen [from Philadelphia]. They brought in Andrew Bynum to add more size and size bothers the Miami Heat. To tell you the truth, the Heat don't care about that."
Glen Davis and Antawn Jamison on Friday became the first in what is expected to become a considerable group of veterans at the ends of contracts to receive buyouts.
While Davis has attracted interest from the Heat, the Los Angeles Clippers are expected to be the frontrunners for his services once he clears waivers Monday.
Danny Granger and Ben Gordon are other veterans expected to possibly receive buyouts in order to move to contenders.
Already released in the wake of Thursday's trade deadline have been dealt players Earl Clark and Roger Mason Jr.
By rule, players are eligible for playoff rosters on other teams if they are released by March 1. They then can sign any time prior to the close of the regular season to have playoff eligibility.
The Heat opened a roster spot with Thursday's trade of Mason to the Sacramento Kings, who subsequently released him.
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