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Blake Makes a Second Point

Wizards' Reserve Playmaker Emerging as a Scoring Threat

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 21, 2005; Page D04

The fear is gone. Washington Wizards second-year reserve point guard Steve Blake isn't worried anymore about the left foot that caused him setback after setback earlier this season. Blake is healthy for the first time in months -- but he isn't exactly the same setup and assist man the team expected him to be when he came back.

Instead, Blake has become the perimeter shooter the team desperately needs with injuries to Antawn Jamison (right knee tendinitis), Jarvis Hayes (fractured right patella), Juan Dixon (sprained right ankle) and Anthony Peeler (sore right knee). Blake doesn't have the prettiest shot -- his wrist flicks the ball as if he were dealing cards -- but after tying his career high with five three-pointers in the Wizards' 96-95 win over Utah on Saturday, he leads the Wizards in three-point shooting at 45 percent (27 of 60).

In the past 12 games, Steve Blake is averaging 8.3 points and has twice matched his season high with 17 points. (John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)

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When asked about his impressive shooting display against the Jazz, Blake cracked a smile, shrugged his shoulders and simply said: "The shot was falling. The shot was feeling great."

Of late, the shot has been feeling great for Blake, as he has gone 13 for 18 (72 percent) from three-point range for the past five games. "He's worked on his shot all summer. He's gotten better," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said about Blake, who shot 37 percent from long distance last season. "If [other teams] want to lay off him when we throw it in the post and he knocks that shot down like that? That's why I like him on the floor."

Blake is averaging 5.0 points this season, but because of the Wizards' incredibly shrinking roster since the all-star break, his playing time and offensive production have increased. In the past 12 games, Blake is averaging 8.3 points and he has matched his season high with 17 points twice. "It [stinks] that we've got guys hurt right now, but you have to pick up the slack for everybody. I'm trying to take advantage of the situation," Blake said. "I'm feeling great, I'm finally 100 percent -- no aches and pains anywhere. I feel quicker. My game is feeling on point."

Blake, the former Maryland standout, missed the first eight games of the season after having surgery to remove a chipped bone in his left ankle. In the first two games of Blake's comeback, he played a grand total of six minutes, scoring no points with two turnovers and no assists, and sat five more games before he landed back on the injured list for another month with a strained left arch.

Six games into his second comeback, Blake was finally gaining some confidence before he went back on the injured list for three more weeks with a sprained left ankle after he backpedaled and stepped on New Jersey swingman Vince Carter's foot on Jan. 4.

When he finally rejoined the Wizards for the third time, Blake had a modest goal -- "I don't want to get hurt any more," he said -- but he played like he was trying not to get hurt, lacking the aggression the spunky, speed-racing point guard showed as a rookie. He occasionally spelled Gilbert Arenas, but had a minimal impact on the games. "It's tough physically and mentally, because you question yourself, if you're going to get back to 100 percent. You just keep pushing yourself and you finally get there. I'm happy I'm there."

So is Jordan, who has been relying heavily on a back court of Blake and Arenas, with guard Larry Hughes moving to small forward. "We've always adored Stevie, ever since we've been here," Jordan said. "He probably has the most instincts as far as making the next pass, seeing what's happening on the floor and making the ball move and keeping the rhythm on the floor for everybody. He's the best on our team at doing that."

Although Blake's assist numbers have been cut in half from last season (2.8 down to 1.4), he leaves reminders of his court vision, like the time he found forward Michael Ruffin cutting toward the basket for a dunk against the Jazz. But of late, Blake hasn't been shy about giving the Wizards a lift with his jumper. In the second quarter of the Wizards' 122-93 win against Atlanta last Wednesday, Blake scored eight consecutive points to thwart a Hawks run. He also hit three three-pointers in the second quarter against the Jazz, when the Wizards appeared to be sleepwalking through the game.

"Stevie is shooting the ball well," Hughes said. "As long as the shots are going down, that's what we need."

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