Ford's fearlessness this season has been most apparent at crunch time, when the Bucks have been uncharacteristically potent. Through Sunday, Milwaukee was 3-0 in games decided by five points or fewer, including a 90-87 win at Golden State on Nov. 16, which ended the Bucks' streak of 17 straight road losses against Western Conference teams. It was equally evident four nights earlier, when Milwaukee recovered from a 13-point deficit in the final 3:39 to beat the Pacers 103-102. After guard Mo Williams drained a game-winning three at the buzzer, Ford flung himself into the celebratory pile. "Everybody started jumping on T.J.," says Hornets guard Speedy Claxton, who was watching on TV. "I was thinking, Oh, my God, why are they doing that? But I guess he's forgotten about [his injury] now, which is great."
While Ford appreciates the concern for his health expressed around the league, he insists that he no longer worries about his future. "It isn't going to take me 15 years to realize that I'm blessed," he says. "I feel like I'm a lot older than I am."
The Ford Factor
Using eFG% (field goal percentage in which threes are weighted 50% more than other shots), points per 100 possessions and free throws per 48 minutes, Ford has had an enormously positive impact on the Bucks this season.
... or will it be Baron Davis, whose swagger has turned the perenially lottery-bound Warriors into a chic playoff pick?
It is mid-November, and strange things are afoot in the Bay Area. Gusting winds from the east have brought record highs--79� in San Francisco on this day--and people are stumbling around as though in a daze, amazed by their good fortune. Across the bay in Oakland, Warriors fans arriving for that night's game against the Milwaukee Bucks are in much the same state, dazed by another unlikely, but warmly received, phenomenon. Long one of the NBA's favorite pi�atas, Golden State is off to its best start since 1994-95 and has won 19 of its last 28 games dating back to last season. � The man most responsible for this revival stands at half-court, scowling, chomping on a wad of gum and shouting directions at a teammate. Stocky and thick-legged at 6'3" and 223 pounds, Baron Davis looks more like a fullback than a point guard, but once the game gets underway, there he is, hurtling up the left side of the court and drawing a halo of defenders before whirling under the basket and, under the arch of a defender's armpit, setting up Warriors center Adonal Foyle for an easy layup. At this, the full house of fans, among them 4,100 new season-ticket holders--the biggest jump in franchise history--stand and get as crazy as Northern Californians can get, for they know that any point guard who can make the stone-handed Foyle a scoring option is to be treasured. In his mezzanine-level suite, Warriors G.M. Chris Mullin, the man who traded for Davis, smiles. "The thing about Baron," Mullin says, nodding toward the court, "he makes a lot of [ordinary] guys look like good players."
Before Davis came to town last February in a lopsided deadline deal with the Hornets (for, uh, Speedy Claxton and Dale Davis), Golden State was a humdrum backing band in search of a dynamic lead singer, the News without its Huey Lewis. Davis pulled on his Warriors jersey and instantly sparked a remarkable transformation. The Warriors are not only winning (6-5 at week's end) but they are also getting some respect around the league. "[ Davis] definitely changes this team," says Chicago Bulls center Tyson Chandler. "He gives them a different heart, a different attitude." Portland Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan agrees, saying, "He can take over and dominate a game." It may seem hyperbolic to give one player credit for a team's turnaround--but Bucks coach and former Golden State assistant Terry Stotts does just that. "It's hard not to attribute everything to Baron," Stotts says. "I equate it to what Jason Kidd did in New Jersey and what Steve Nash did in Phoenix. That type of player can raise a team immeasurably."
Davis has given the Warriors three things they lacked: someone who can create shots for teammates, a scorer who draws double teams and a leader with a big old helping of chutzpah. This last contribution was perhaps the most significant one. Remember, this is a franchise that has gone 11 seasons without making the postseason, the longest drought in the league. When Davis showed up and immediately announced, volubly and repeatedly, that this dry spell was over, his message was greeted skeptically in some quarters. But Davis, who was raised in L.A. and counts Denzel Washington and Diddy among his friends, has the charisma of a Hollywood icon, and his teammates believe they can do whatever he says they can do. "He has the kind of personality that enforces his will on the people around him," says Foyle. "He brings out the confidence in you."