By Gregg Hoffmann Special to Published Jan 15, 2004 at 5:21 AM

The Bradley Center has become the toughest place in the NBA for opponents to play, as the Bucks have won nine straight home games.

Bucks' coach Terry Porter would prefer if that remained a well-kept secret for a while longer. "I would prefer if they didn't talk about it and came in here just expecting another game," said Porter after the Bucks beat the Boston Celtics, 111-103, Tuesday night for their ninth straight.

"I'm sure the coaches will start talking though. We'll just keep playing hard and aggressive basketball here night in and night out."

That is how the Bucks, who were predicted to win fewer than 30 games by many experts, have posted a 14-4 home record, tied with Indiana for tops in the Eastern Conference, and a 21-17 mark overall.

Porter has instilled a true sense of team in the players. "Everybody contributes on this team," said Michael Redd, who leads the Bucks with about 21 points per game. "First string, second string, it doesn't matter. Everybody is going to do what they can to win."

Depth has become a strength. Redd and rookie T.J. Ford have played well as the starting guards, but their backups - Desmond Mason, Damon Jones and Erick Strickland - can come in and contribute at any time.

Strickland was the one who stepped up Tuesday night with 14 points and some tough defense in 19 minutes. "You just have to be ready every night if you are called on," he said. "Michael Redd has been our one consistent scorer, but we have managed to find a guy or two in addition almost every night."

Tim Thomas, Brian Skinner and Joe Smith start in the frontcourt. Smith has been a consistent contributor in scoring, on defense and on the glass.

"Joe might be our most consistent performer to date," Porter said. "He does a lot of things for us."

Toni Kukoc provides some veteran savvy, periodic scoring and good passing as a backup in the frontcourt. He had 16 points, six rebounds and four assists in 26 minutes Tuesday.

Daniel Santiago adds a big body and a good worth ethic. Dan Gadzuric, who missed Tuesday's game with a strained knee, has shown great improvement. Even the 12th man on the team, Marcus Haislip, contributed earlier in the season.

"It's good to have a second team that can push the first team," Porter said. "Tonight, our first team wasn't on the same page to start, but our second team pulled it out for us. It gets pretty competitive in practice too."

Porter goes with the flow and will use different combinations, depending on the matchups. Eight players played between 24 and 29 minutes for the Bucks Tuesday night.

"I have a great mind for numbers and know when eight minutes are up," Porter said with a smile. "No, I'm just going with the flow of the game. It just turned out that way tonight."

The Bucks will have two more chances to extend their home streak this week, when they play New Jersey Thursday and Detroit Saturday night.

Fans don't seem to have completely caught on yet. An announced crowd of 13,417 Tuesday night probably was closer to 10,000. The Bucks have averaged more than 16,500, which puts them around the middle of the NBA.

The season will reach its midway point next week. If the Bucks continue to dominate at home, look for their tickets to become Hot Tix in the second half of the season.

The Name Game

Tackle Chad Clifton, fullback William Henderson and tight end Wesley Walls all might be done with the Packers, as the team decides what free agents to sign ... Darren Haydar led the Admirals in scoring with 24 points in the first 30 games. The Admirals lead the American Hockey League in scoring with a 3.21 goals per game average ... Ryan Luebke of Janesville scored his third game-winning goal of the season in a 5-4 overtime win against Milwaukee Marquette.

Beyond Milwaukee Sports

UW-Platteville handed Stevens Point its first loss of the season. The Pointers still entered action this week at 12-1 ... Jolene Anderson had 38 points, 18 rebounds, nine assists and eight steals in a 90-48 win over Mellen ... Trina Langrehr scored 12 points to lead Bangor to its first win over Royal in seven years, 40-27.

Hot Tix

The Bucks' game against the Nets starts at 7 p.m. Thursday and the game against the Pistons is at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

In hockey, the Admirals play St. John's at 7 p.m. Friday. In college basketball, UWM hosts Youngstown State at 7 p.m. Thursday at the U.S. Cellular Arena. The Panthers play a Horizon League showdown game at UW-Green Bay at 1 p.m. Saturday. Fox Sports Net will carry that game.

Marquette also plays in Green Bay this weekend, with a 7 p.m. Friday game against Southern Mississippi, Brett Favre's alma mater. Wisconsin is off this weekend.

The Wave plays at Kansas City Friday night. Soccer fans can mark their long range calendar for May 14, when the Wave United opens its outdoor season against the Edmonton Aviators at Uihlein Soccer Park.

Several of the best prep teams in the region will play in a special tournament on Monday, Martin Luther King Day. The tournament was started by former Bucks coach George Karl.

The Brewers go on their annual winter tour of the state next week. Check out a Brew Crew Review lead in this column next Thursday. We'll take a look at what kind of reception the Brewers get around the state after all the turmoil this off-season.

Gregg Hoffmann writes State Sports Buzz on Thursdays for OMC.

Gregg Hoffmann Special to
Gregg Hoffmann is a veteran journalist, author and publisher of Midwest Diamond Report and Old School Collectibles Web sites. Hoffmann, a retired senior lecturer in journalism at UWM, writes The State Sports Buzz and Beyond Milwaukee on a monthly basis for OMC.