After finally clearing the hurdle in receiving medical clearance to play, Lakers guard Steve Blake anticipates facing several more hurdles to jump.
Blake’s appearance when the Lakers’ host the New Orleans Hornets Tuesday at Staples Center will mark the first time since Nov. 11 he played in a game, a span that marked a 37-game absence because of a lower abdominal strain that morphed into an injured groin shortly before a December surgery to treat the original injury.
Since that time, Blake still hasn’t played in any five-on-five drills because of the Lakers’ veteran laden group riddled with injuries and fatigue issues. Blake also conceded his conditioning remains around a “7 or 8” on a 1-10 scale. Blake will also play with the understanding that his groin area isn’t fully healed.
That’s why Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni plans to play Blake “limited minutes” and remains unsure whether he will immediately backup point guard Steve Nash.
“It’s still going to be a process,” said Blake, who was averaging 5.1 points on 35.3 percent shooting and 3.4 assists per game before his injury. “I have to get my legs underneath me and get in game type condition. But I’m excited to be out there.”
Regardless, the reality Blake currently faces trumpets what he had to handle in the past two months.
Lakers doctor Dr. Steve Lombardo said the training staff, physicians and Blake initially didn’t consider the pain in his groin area to be serious shortly before his Dec. 5 surgery. But enough pain emerged that Blake received a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection to treat the groin. He also had a second opinion with a hernia specialist to know how much pain he can tolerate without seriously exposing the injury.
Blake had missed 38 games during his second NBA season with the Washington Wizards (2003-04) after having surgery to remove a chipped bone in his right ankle. Blake had also missed 13 games last season with the Lakers because of a rib injury. But none of these injuries took the kind of twists he experienced this season.
During this whole time, Blake sat on the bench wondering both when he would receive medical clearance and when the Lakers’ struggles would stop.
“You always want to be out there and be able to help,” Blake said. “You can see guys fought through those tough times and sometimes the tough things make you stronger. I hope I’ve learned through the situation I’ve been through and as a team we’ll stick together. Even if more adversity comes, we’ll fight through that as well. I’m proud of the way everyone has responded.”
Now, D’Antoni sounded eager how Blake will respond after gushing that his playmaking instincts fits his offensive system.
“I’ve always tried to get him for the last 10 years,” D”Antoni said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what he can add.”
Blake smiled when he heard D’Antoni’s comments.
“I hope he’s right,” Blake said. “I still haven’t played in his system, I haven’t played any five on five. So it’s going to be a learning process for me. I have to watch a lot of film and guys will make mistakes. I have to learn from them and figure things out during the game. That’s going to be a certain challenge.”
Blake believes such challenges could involve floor spacing and reading pick-and-rolls. He wonders how his incomplete conditioning will affect his quickness and shooting stroke. Regardless, Blake maintains he’ll adjust to the circumstances.
“It’s not like I’m going to jump in and get a ton of minutes,” Blake said. [D’Antoni’s] going to ease me into it and see how I’m doing, see how I handle it and see how my conditioning is and how I’m playing. Then it’s his call. As a player, I’m there to respond to whatever he needs out there.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org