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Cool Head Terry Porter has rallied the Bucks by preaching patience, not panic

The Bucks had lost for the fourth time in five games, a 117-111
defeat at home last Friday to the Nuggets that would have left
most coaches apoplectic. Though his team had failed to grab
crucial loose balls and allowed Denver to shoot better than 50%
in each quarter, first-year Milwaukee coach Terry Porter refused
to yell at his players or dog them in the press. "He could see in
all our faces how disappointed we were," says Bucks forward Keith
Van Horn. "We knew we had messed up."

Just two years after hanging up his sneakers, Porter is a
players' coach in the best sense of that term--demanding but also
understanding, he draws from the experiences of his 17-year
career to guide his team. "He doesn't beat you up," says Bucks
co-captain Erick Strickland. "He allows you to make your mistakes
and then learn from them. He knows when it's time to rest, what
you're going through and all the mental aspects of the game."

Porter's young Bucks are the Eastern version of the Jazz--picked
to finish last in their respective conferences by SI, each has
played better than .500 ball--and Porter, a former star at
Milwaukee's South Division High, has much in common with his
overachieving team. Drafted 24th by the Trail Blazers out of
Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 1985, Porter developed into an
All-Star known for clutch shooting, but only after he'd missed
many pressure shots. He knows from his own tribulations that
smart young players learn from mistakes, and his patience has
helped his players, particularly rookie point guard T.J. Ford,
grow up ahead of schedule. "Not having been a player in the
league, I would have pulled T.J. after a couple of mistakes at
times," says Bucks assistant Bob Ociepka. "Terry has left him in,
and it has paid off."

The next challenge for Porter will be to rally the Bucks past the
Hornets for home court advantage in the first round of the
playoffs. (Milwaukee trailed New Orleans by a game through
Sunday.) It won't be easy. By settling too often for quick jump
shots, the Bucks have been making it easy for opponents to grab
long rebounds and run, run, run. The Milwaukee teams of Ray
Allen, Sam Cassell and Glenn Robinson had the same weakness, and
their fans remember the consequences: Those Bucks were tied for
the Central Division lead on March 16, 2002, when a loss to the
Pistons initiated a monthlong free fall that knocked them out of
the playoffs.

That won't happen this time--Milwaukee is five games ahead of
ninth-place Boston, even after a 103-100 loss to visiting New
York in which the Bucks blew a 26-point third-quarter lead--and
this squad isn't divided by locker room lawyers and selfish
stars. "We don't have a Hall of Fame candidate here yet," says
Porter, "so our great equalizer is playing hard together." Top
scorer Michael Redd is a quiet 24-year-old guard still getting
used to his All-Star status. He's complemented by veterans Van
Horn, Toni Kukoc, Desmond Mason and Joe Smith. They'll all need
to contribute in the absence of Ford, who may be out for the
season after bruising his spinal cord on Feb. 25.

In the absence of a vocal leader on the court, the spark must
come from Porter. Last week he ran an extended back-to-basics
practice the day after an 0-3 road trip, but instead of berating
his players, he zeroed in on what they needed to improve on: ball
movement and transition D.

Porter had only a year of coaching experience as an assistant at
Sacramento before being hired in Milwaukee, and he has imported
elements of the Kings' fluid up-tempo offense while relying on an
experienced staff that includes Mike Shuler, his coach in
Portland from 1986-87 through '88-89. "As a player I didn't think
I had all the answers either," says Porter. "We have a lot to
learn." The next month will show if Porter's patience has been

COLOR PHOTO: GARY DINEEN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES Van Horn and his teammates have thrived thanks to their coach'sevenhandedness.

COLOR PHOTO: LAYNE MURDOCH/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES Porter knows players learn from mistakes.