It could be regarded as a badge of honor, an accessory garment awarded only to players who dare to stick their nose in other people's business on the basketball court.
Myles Turner gets to wear a mask when the Pacers resume play in Chicago on Friday, and likely will wear it through the All-Star break, in mid-February. He practiced with it for the first time on Thursday, and reported no issues afterward.
"It's a matter of pain tolerance," he said. "I should be all right. It's not severe. I haven't been hit either, so it's a matter of getting used to being hit."
Turner, whose nose was injured when he caught an elbow while blocking a shot in Monday's victory over Atlanta, has had fun with the masked man theme on social media. He also can take pride in joining some of the game's greats who have had to wear plastic masks to protect injured noses. LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook, and Chris Paul all have had to wear them.
Former Detroit guard Richard Hamilton made the most of masks. He broke his nose in the 2003-04 season. The Pistons won the championship that season and he wore the mask for the rest of his career, which concluded with the 2012-13 season.
Some Pacers have had to wear masks over the years, but Reggie Miller probably wore the most memorable piece of protective gear when he donned goggles for a playoff game in 1996. Miller had fractured his eye socket in a game against Detroit on April 13 of that season after colliding with Pistons forward Otis Thorpe. He missed the final four regular season games and the first four playoff games against Atlanta, then returned with shaded eye goggles for the decisive Game 5 at Market Square Arena.
He scored 29 points, but shot erratically (2-of-6 3-pointers) and the Pacers lost by two points. He also wore the goggles while playing on the Olympic team that summer.
Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images
Pacers coach Nate McMillan also had to wear eye goggles during his playing career with Seattle. For awhile, anyway.
"Didn't like it," McMillan said. "After a few minutes I threw them to the sidelines — and got subbed out of the game because I needed to wear them."
Turner will have to wear his as well, whether he likes them or not.
"It's going to take some time to adjust to that, whether it's a game or two or a quarter," McMillan said. "That's something he just has to go through."
One. Game. At. A. Time.
It's a near certainty that before an extended road trip or any particularly distinctive stretch of games, McMillan will be asked about his goal for them or the importance of them.
It's an absolute certainty he will answer by saying something along the lines of taking one game at a time.
It came up again on Thursday, when McMillan was asked about the five-game Eastern Conference road trip that awaits the Pacers. Following Friday's game in Chicago, they play in Toronto, Cleveland, Boston, and New York. Their next home game is not until Jan. 15, when they play Phoenix.
McMillan inevitably was asked a question about the importance of the trip.
"Our focus is going to be one game at a time," he said.
The Pacers had two days of practice before flying to Chicago on Thursday afternoon. They've won 12 of their previous 14 games and are riding a five-game winning streak, so there are no urgent issues to confront. McMillan, though, seeks continued improvement, and his players continue to echo his thoughts.
"We have to continue to improve," he said. "That will be something we have to work at throughout the season. Look at our last game (an eight-point victory over Atlanta), that wasn't a perfect game by any means. You're always looking to improve and grow.
"We did some good things in the month of December, but we're going to have to be even better in February, March and April."
The Pacers' schedule, rated as the easiest in the NBA to this point, definitely gets tougher. But they don't need to feel intimidated by their upcoming journey. Their road record of 11-7 is second-best in the NBA, behind only Toronto (13-7). Only two of their road victories (Philadelphia and San Antonio) have come against teams that currently have a winning record, but the accomplishment remains significant.
Why have they fared so well away from home?
"We just take it one game at a time," McMillan said, drawing chuckles from the assembled media.
"We really do," he added. "That's our approach."
The Pacers have done it with the constant of a defense that ranks second in the NBA for overall effectiveness and a balanced offense that has produced the second-best field goal percentage.
The continuity that comes from having the same starting lineup for the second consecutive season along with the return of their two top reserves is a factor in both of those stats.
"It's just the guys that we have here," McMillan said. "This year they have confidence in themselves, if we go out and play our game, we can win home or away. They seem to be connected on the road.
"This will be an opportunity to test us."
The Pacers play 10 of their next 16 games on the road, extending into February. The good news for them is that only two of those opponents (Toronto and Boston) have winning records as of today, and another (Miami) is at .500.
McDermott Older, Healthier
Doug McDermott turned 27 on Thursday. There was the usual post-practice gathering of players, coaches, and basketball staff personnel at midcourt to sing happy birthday, but McDermott's most valued gift was a healthy ankle.
He suffered a sprain in Monday's victory over Atlanta and sat out practice on Wednesday. He was a full participant on Thursday, however, and is expected to play in Chicago on Friday.
McDermott has slumped the previous five games, hitting just 2-of-11 3-point shots and averaging 4.2 points. He had hit 9-of-17 3-pointers and averaged 8.6 points in the five games previous to that.
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Mark Montieth's book on the formation and groundbreaking seasons of the Pacers, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," is available in bookstores throughout Indiana and on Amazon.com.
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