No question, Porter makes statement with Bucks

ON THE NBA

January 18, 2004|By MILTON KENT

Just about everyone around the NBA was willing to grant new Bucks coach Terry Porter the grace period that comes with taking over a team, especially one that figured to be as bad as Milwaukee.

And with Glenn Robinson, Ray Allen and Sam Cassell (Dunbar) all shipped out of Brew Town last year, and Gary Payton escaping via free agency, the thinking was that Porter, a Milwaukee native, would need lots of his hometown's most famous export to drown his sorrows.

But, as the season reaches the halfway point, Porter might be reaching for champagne rather than beer, as the Bucks are currently above .500 and the surprise team of the Eastern Conference.

"From Day One, we really only talked about getting into a position come April to be in the playoff race," Porter said. "Right now, with the few injuries we've had, we're in that position, and we're pleased to be in that position. We take it game by game, and we work on the big picture. And the big picture is trying to be in the playoffs."

To get there, Porter, in his first season as a head coach after spending last season as an assistant in Sacramento with the Kings, has the Bucks playing largely the way he did during his 17-year career - with intelligence and scrappy defensive play.

Milwaukee isn't scoring as much as last year (95.2 points per game, down from 99.5 last season), but the Bucks aren't giving up as many either (93.3 to 99.3).

Fourth-year guard Michael Redd, who spent most of his career coming off the bench, has responded splendidly to being moved into the starting lineup, and is not only a near lock to make the All-Star squad, but is a favorite in the race for Most Improved Player.

Likewise, forward Tim Thomas is a solid second option to Redd. And Desmond Mason, who came over from the Seattle SuperSonics in the Allen-Payton trade, and former Maryland star Joe Smith, who came to Milwaukee from the Minnesota Timberwolves for Cassell, have played their roles well. Point guard T.J. Ford, taken eighth overall in the June draft, has been in the top 10 in assists all season.

Porter wants the Bucks to run as often as possible, and with their improved defense, the running game has been fully engaged.

"Nowadays, it's difficult to go up against a set defense all the time," Porter said. "We always look at fast-break points as a key for us at home and on the road because it gives us easy opportunities, opportunities where you don't have to worry about going up against their set defense. The more of those you can have, the better off you'll be, scoring-wise."

Quiz

With New Orleans Hornets point guard Baron Davis ranked in the top five in both scoring and assists, name the last point guard to accomplish that feat.

Lakers get Udoka

As of Jan. 5, 10-day contracts can now be offered to players, and the injury-depleted Los Angeles Lakers gave one this week to little-known swingman Ime Udoka, who was called up from the National Basketball Development League, where he was eighth in the league in scoring for Charleston.

Udoka, who doesn't figure to see much time when Kobe Bryant and Karl Malone return from the injured list, is half the answer to a trivia question, as he joins his sister, Mfon, as the first male/female siblings to play professionally in the United States.

Mfon Udoka played in 25 games last season for the Houston Comets of the WNBA.

Mending fences

Lost in all the hoopla surrounding the changing of the coaching guard in New York is the mini-drama playing itself out in Dallas, where speculation runs rampant that Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and coach Don Nelson aren't exactly getting along.

The two met for 30 minutes before the Mavericks played host to the Philadelphia 76ers and supposedly, each emerged happier than before, especially Nelson, who will keep his job.

"He told me he's not firing me," Nelson said.

After Nelson guided the Mavericks to the best record in franchise history last year and the franchise's second-ever appearance in the Western Conference finals, Cuban took his good, sweet time extending Nelson's contract, waiting until after the season.

The Mavericks, who made big changes in the offseason, adding forwards Antoine Walker and Antawn Jamison, have stumbled out of the gate. Cuban reportedly made contact with former Miami Heat coach Pat Riley, explaining it away as just a coincidence, as he and his wife and family have a residence in South Florida.

Still, the Cuban/Nelson relationship isn't nearly as strong as it was when Cuban bought the team, and certainly bears watching, particularly if Cuban wants to make more changes, including making a run at Portland Trail Blazers forward Rasheed Wallace.

"I'm going to do the best I can do and if that's not good enough, somebody else will take over for me," Nelson said.

"Mark and I want the same thing. The difference of opinion might be how to get there and how long it might take. But we both want to win. We're just not winning enough - that's the problem. If we'd win every game, everyone would be happy."

Quiz answer

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