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Joking aside, LeBron James likely will wear mask to protect broken nose if he plays Sunday

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Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) shoots between Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka (9) and guard Thabo Sefolosha (25) during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

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Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) shoots between Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka (9) and guard Thabo Sefolosha (25) during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

MIAMI - LeBron James looked groggy, battled the sniffles as he spoke and wore a large bandage Saturday over the bridge of his swollen, broken nose.

None of which stopped James' Miami Heat teammates from ribbing him about the injury, which could keep him out of Sunday's game against Chicago.

"Funny guys on this team, I'll tell you," James said, managing a chuckle.

"We got a couple of big-nose jokes in there," teammate Chris Bosh said.

James sat out practice Saturday, although he shot some baskets and free throws on the side. He said he wouldn't have played if there had been a game, but added he has felt better each day since breaking his nose during Thursday's victory at Oklahoma City.

He hopes to improve enough to play against the Bulls, and his availability will be a game-time decision.

When asked how his nose felt, James said, "It has been better. It's a little bit of everything — pain, headaches, whatever. I have to get past it and hopefully get better in the next day. I'm definitely not going to rush it."

James was to be fitted for a protective mask and will likely wear it if he plays against the Bulls.

"It's nothing you want to make long-term," James said. "It's very uncomfortable."

James knows from experience. He wore a mask for a few weeks 10 years ago, after he broke his cheekbone hours before his 20th birthday in a game for Cleveland against Houston.

James said he doesn't recall missing significant playing time then.

"That was a 19-year-old recovering, compared with a 29-year-old recovering," he said with a laugh. "It takes a little bit longer than when I was 19."

James was hurt in the fourth quarter of Thursday's game when he was struck inadvertently by defender Serge Ibaka on a drive to the basket. He missed the final six minutes, but even with his nose still bleeding afterward, he took teasing for how he looked.

Coach Erik Spoelstra said a doctor fixed James' nose Friday to "make it look prettier."

"You can't be sensitive in this locker room," Bosh said. "He's still a good-looking guy. He's still married. I don't think his wife is going anywhere."

James sat out one game earlier this season with a groin injury, and the Heat won at Portland despite the absence of their leading scorer.

"We want to continue with the theme of no excuses, even without him," Spoelstra said. "Guys are willing, ready and able to step up. We have guys who are clawing to get some playing time."

Any absence is unusual for James, who has never missed more than seven games in a season during his 11-year career.

"He's Iron Man," Bosh said. "But sometimes when you have a broken nose, you have to rest a little bit. He'll have to rub some dirt on it and come back healthy."

After facing Chicago, the Heat are off until Thursday, when they play host to the New York Knicks.

Sunday's home game will the first in 20 days for the Heat, who went 5-1 on a trip that spanned the All-Star break. Miami trails Eastern Conference leader Indiana by 1 1/2 games.

"We're not really concerned about that," Dwyane Wade said. "This team just wants to continue to play well. Everything else will take care of itself."

___

Follow Steven Wine on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Steve_Wine

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