Each step Steve Blake is taking on his surgically repaired ankle is helping the Washington Wizards take a step closer to reaching full strength. Blake, a second-year point guard, practiced in full for the first time yesterday and could be activated in time for tonight's game against Boston at MCI Center.

"It could be a game-time decision with him being activated," Coach Eddie Jordan said. "Or we could wait until after the game. Our stance was, let's see how hard he can practice and how long he can practice hard. He went through all the practices today and he was very impressive."

At the latest, Blake is expected to return to the lineup Saturday in New Jersey. "It felt good," Blake said of his ankle. "But it's not always up to me. If it was up to me, I would've come back a couple of weeks ago, but I couldn't do it. Hopefully, they'll let me come back as soon as I can."

Blake has been out since late September, when he had surgery to remove a chipped bone in his ankle.

He participated in half of the team's drills in practice on Friday but began to experience discomfort in his right foot, forcing him to rest the next day. After the Wizards (3-4) play the Celtics tonight, the team will have two more practices to find out how Blake feels before they determine whether to remove him from the injured list.

The ankle is "recovering well," Blake said. "I'll come in . . . and see if the pain is there. If not, I'm ready to go. It's the regular season now and you want to play every game. You try not to miss many more."

Reserve shooting guard Juan Dixon has played well in Blake's absence, averaging 11.4 points and 2.7 assists, but Blake would give the Wizards a pure point guard to spell starter Gilbert Arenas or play with him during stretches.

Blake, a former Maryland standout, averaged 5.9 points and 2.8 assists as a rookie for the Wizards but showed signs of progress in the Pepsi Summer Pro League and the Reebok Vegas Summer League before injuring himself during a pickup game at his summer basketball camp.

Blake hasn't appeared to miss a beat in practice, where he was back running the show, tossing lobs to forward Jarvis Hayes, making no-look passes and making jumpers. "He was lighting it up," guard Larry Hughes said. "Lost his wind, though."

Blake admitted that he still has to get back his conditioning, but he doesn't expect the time off to slow him down when he returns.

"I'll come in and do what I've always been doing," Blake said. "To finally get to run up and down, get some shots up and make some good passes, it's like playing for the first time again. It's really exciting. I was pretty surprised that I was able to get things going the way that I did. I figured it'd be pretty slow. It came through pretty quickly."

Wizards Notes: Blake may return soon, but injured forwards Etan Thomas (abdominal strain) and Kwame Brown (right foot surgery) are not expected off the injured list until next month. Thomas said he is improving but he has been limited to shooting free throws and stretching exercises.

"It's very frustrating when you don't have a timetable," Thomas said. "It's kind of odd, when you have to look forward to the next treatment. There's nothing I can really do about it. They don't want to rush it because they said that'll be counterproductive."

Brown said he can participate in non-contact drills but offered little else. "Less is more," Brown said. . . .

For a team that is allowing opponents to shoot 48 percent, the Celtics are a difficult matchup for the Wizards. The Celtics are second in the NBA in field goal percentage (48.3) and have seven players who are shooting at least 50 percent.

BLAKE