J.R. Smith tried to make it work. For a good 30 minutes before Wednesday night's game against Sacramento, he made his way around the perimeter, trying to get his game going while wearing his new protective plastic mask.
Less than an hour before game time, however, he decided the mask just wasn't fitting the way he wanted and it wasn't worth the risk. "I'm not gonna play tonight," Smith said. "I'll wait it out and hopefully it heals more within the next week and I get more comfortable wearing it."
It marked the first time Smith has missed a game because of an injury since he became a Knick midway through the 2011-12 season. Smith suffered a small fracture in his left cheekbone on Sunday in Oklahoma City. He was fitted for a protective face mask on Monday and has been told that he cannot play without if for the next four to five weeks.
"Yeah, it's way too risky to play without it," he said. "For the consequences to get hit again in that spot, I can lose my vision and I don't want that and nobody else would want that. So I'll just wait it out, wait one game."
Smith is sending the mask back to get a better fit for his face. "If it fit, I would go, but I think it's more of a mental thing not to get hit in that spot," he said. "Eventually, someday I'm not going to be able to play this game forever. I want to have my sight to be able to look after my kids. It's definitely -- I hate to say it -- somewhat of a selfish decision, but it is what it is."
Smith is scoring 13 points per game this season but averaged 20 points in his last five before he was injured in Oklahoma City. He realizes that wearing the mask, even when the fit has been adjusted, is going to be a bit of a challenge. He said he has reached out to former Pistons star Rip Hamilton, who played multiple seasons with a mask, for advice.
Said Smith: "It gets steamy, a little foggy. You're so used to just regular sweat and sweating and all of the sudden there's a little funnel that comes at the bottom of your face. It's kind of weird. But I got some good pointers from Rip, and hopefully it will work out."