- The Washington Times - Friday, March 18, 2005

Players have thrived in unexpected roles all season for the Washington Wizards.

Early in the season, Jared Jeffries was asked to fill in at power forward for injured Kwame Brown and has proved to be one of the squad’s best defensive players. Juan Dixon has developed a knack for coming off the bench and kick-starting the offense. In recent games, Brendan Haywood has provided consistent post offense for stretches.

Now it appears to be Steve Blake’s turn.

Blake, who began the season on the injured list after having surgery on his ankle to remove a chipped bone, has missed 29 games with various foot injuries. However, he appears to at long last be healthy.

“It’s been a real struggle just trying to get to this point,” said Blake, who matched his season-high with 17 points against Atlanta on Wednesday. “I think I learned a lot about myself along the way, about how you have to be patient and you can’t rush things. Now I just want to contribute any way that I can down the stretch.”

In the Wizards’ 122-93 rout of the lowly Hawks, coach Eddie Jordan wasn’t reluctant to insert Blake as a third guard in the lineup alongside Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes. That set allows Blake to play his setup role, Arenas to get more spot-up jumpers from the two-guard position and provides Hughes more opportunities to create scoring chances.

“He’s very good at keeping us organized,” Jordan said of Blake. “He reads the defense and that allows guys to get easy baskets. And he opens the floor up for the guys down low too. So there are a lot of benefits to having him out there.”

Blake will continue to receive floor time as Dixon continues his recovery from a sprained ankle. Also, reserve guard Anthony Peeler is back in Washington with a quad injury that has proved slow to mend.

After enjoying a solid summer, Blake grew frustrated with his own injuries this season. The ailments included arch problems and a sprained ankle. That left the Wizards (35-27) without what Jordan described as “the closest thing we have” to a real point guard on the roster.

“All that work at time seems like it’s pretty much a waste of time when you can’t get back on the court,” Blake said earlier this season. “It’s kind of hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

But now Blake is finally starting to feel healthy, as evidenced by Wednesday’s performance.

“I can say for the first time that I’m starting to feel like I’m 100 percent, like my legs are finally there,” an upbeat Blake said. “No more foot problems. I’m starting to feel my quickness come back and I’m getting fast now. When I go out on the court I feel a lot more athletic than I did when I was just trying to get back into playing shape.”

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