LeBron James was back to the villain role he had shed in favor of a pair of Miami Heat championships. Or at least he looked the part.
No, he wasn't wearing the imaging-altering metaphorical black hat that he cast himself in during his first season with the Heat, just a black mask that that made his look nearly as menacing as the actual damage he helped inflict on the New York Knicks in what turned into a 108-82 Heat victory Thursday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
"The most important thing," coach Erik Spoelstra said, "was his aggressiveness tonight. He wasn't going to let an injury or the mask take away from his assertiveness.
"I liked the look of it, it looked menacing."
Playing for the first time since breaking his nose in last week's road victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, James helped the Heat close out a 9-1 February with 31 points on 13-of-19 shooting.
"It's something I'm going to need to get comfortable with, for at least the next couple of weeks," he said.
Actually he looked comfortable, and for a reason, as he produced his fifth consecutive 30-point game.
"It was carbon-fiber and lighter," he said, with the black prototype arriving in time to match the Heat's throwback black uniforms.
Asked if he had red and white versions for when the Heat wear those uniforms, he said, "I'm sure I'll get emails from all kinds of mask makers who will make anything I want."
The mask seemingly adding only greater clarity of the one-man show the Knicks have become.
Carmelo Anthony certainly did all he could to keep his Knicks afloat, scoring 24 of the Knicks 50 first-half points. But eventually the heavy lifting proved too much for the New York forward, with Anthony closing with 29 points on 11-of-20 shooting, as well as one noteworthy blocked shot against James.
By the finish, Anthony practically stood as a sympathetic figure.
"I think it’s pretty much numbing to him now," teammate J.R. Smith said of Anthony. "The way things are going, that's not good for anybody."
Empathy was limited even from a close friend.
"I'm on the fence about it," James said. "He's a close friend, but I want the whole league to lose. I only root for us."
Otherwise for the Knicks, there were the 19 points and 16 rebounds of center Tyson Chandler, and that's about it, playoff hopes all but extinguished before the start of March, now with a 21-37 record.
James, by contrast, received 23 points on 10-of-13 shooting in support from Heat guard Dwyane Wade, who had his way with the Knicks' wayward defenders throughout the night.
Hours after his nose was broken last week on a blow to the face from Thunder forward Serge Ibaka while completing a dunk, James posted an Instagram photo of himself in a "Bane" mask. Thursday, he came out with a look resembling the Batman villain.
"It was awesome," teammate Chris Bosh said. "He played like Batman. If you want to wear a black mask and look crazy, you should do it."
"Only LeBron," teammate Shane Battier said, "could make breaking your nose look cool. I don't think it will inspire people to go out and break their nose. But it looked pretty cool. I expected nothing less than fashion forward from the Renaissance man that he is."