- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2003

The time comes for every young NBA player to find himself on the court against a player he idolizes.

For Washington Wizards guard Steve Blake, that time likely will come tonight against the Philadelphia 76ers’ Allen Iverson.

“I’ve been watching him for a long, long time. He’s definitely one of my favorite players,” said Blake, an integral part of the Washington’s second unit. “I’m looking forward to it.”

When most people look at Iverson they see a four-time NBA All-Star and a three-time scoring champion. But what Blake notices are Iverson’s contributions at the defensive end, which are what Wizards coach Eddie Jordan wants Blake and former Maryland teammate Juan Dixon to emulate.

“He plays the passing lanes as well as anyone, and he brings great energy,” Blake said.

Iverson has led the league in steals three consecutive seasons, making him one of three players in league history to do so. Seven games into the season Iverson (3.57 steals a game) is second to New Orleans’ Baron Davis (4.71)

Although Jordan doesn’t expect either Blake or Dixon to replicate what Iverson does offensively — he leads the league in scoring (28.9 points a game) and is tied for ninth in assists (7.3) — he wants his quick reserves to cause as much defensive havoc as possible with their energy.

“I want them to keep the pressure up, keep the defensive activity up,” Jordan said. “I like for them to get out in the open floor and keep pushing the ball and putting pressure on the ball when the other team has it.”

In the Wizards’ last two games, a win against Toronto and a loss against Cleveland, Jordan has used Blake and Dixon — both generously listed at 6-foot-3 — simultaneously for stretches. Despite their slight builds — at 172 pounds, Blake is eight pounds heavier than Dixon — the energy they have brought to the second unit has been invaluable.

“Stevie is a terrific defender one-on-one. He does a great job of containing the ball,” Jordan said. “Juan is a little bit more risky. Either way they give us what we want. We want to be disruptive at the defensive end, and we want to dictate to the offense what we want.”

Dixon, in his second season, has gotten more minutes than Blake even though it looked like Blake was ahead of him in the rotation during the preseason. And Dixon has responded well, hitting clutch jumpers when the offense has stalled and doing a better job at running the team than Jordan expected.

However, Dixon’s ability to be disruptive defensively has made him more valuable to the team. Going into tonight’s game, Dixon is 20th in the league in steals despite coming off the bench.

“We’ve got big hearts. Blake is tough; I’m tough,” Dixon said. “We’re just going out there and doing what we love to do, doing what we’re asked to get done.”

Notes — Jordan said he and Gilbert Arenas had finished discussing the Saturday melodrama in which Arenas was benched in the third quarter of a 111-98 loss to Cleveland.

“It’s over,” Jordan said. “I hope things get even better because of this.”


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