Breakers expect feisty Wildcats scrap
When CJ Bruton mentions "this could get ugly" he means it in the best possible way.
When it comes to the New Zealand Breakers and the Perth Wildcats "ugly" can be liberally translated as testy, physical, uncompromising, brutal and often beautifully competitive.
For the last two seasons they've fought out the defining playoff series - the Breakers prevailing in both to claim back-to-back championships.
Last year's grand final, where all three pulsating games went to the wire, was hailed by seasoned observers as one of the greatest in the league's history.
Everyone is picking them to meet again in this season's showpiece matchup, though there's a bit of water to flow under that bridge yet, including their second clash of the regular season at the brand new Perth Arena tomorrow night .
The Cats thumped the Breakers by 21 at the NSEC in the season opener back in early October, but since then the two teams have diverged down contrasting paths.
The Breakers, chasing that title threepeat, have rattled off seven straight victories to charge to the top of the standings, seemingly getting better with each outing and now just one win from equalling their own record streak.
The Cats, though, appear to have hit the wall, a brutal schedule of five straight road games taking a toll.
They won the first three easily enough, but then were thumped 100-67 at Wollongong, before crashing away (77-65) and at home (69-65) against their bogey side, the Adelaide 36ers.
It was last week's home defeat, in front of nearly 12,000 fans at their brand new arena, that surprised many. It was a sloppy, lethargic display by the Cats who shot just 31 per cent from the floor and were outrebounded by a 36ers outfit who seemingly wanted it more.
That led to voluble coach Rob Beveridge challenging his men by saying they were "playing scared" which in turn has Bruton, who had his best game of the season (15 points and four boards) in last Friday's rout of Townsville, predicting a fiery response.
"This will be physical," declared the 36-year-old five-time title winner. "It could be ugly. Our games against them are always like playoff games. It will be feisty. They haven't shot the ball well for the last three games.
"Bruton even did the math from last Friday's defeat to Adelaide. If you take away Perth's 30 points in the paint, their 10 free-throws and their 15 points off turnovers (mostly fast-breaks) that doesn't leave a lot of made shots from the perimeter."
Right now, with them coming off three losses, they don't want to even look at losing a ball game," added the NBL legend who started his career in Perth back in 1994.
"For us, we've been great on the road so far, so why not continue the run?"
Bruton also acknowledged the "big game" nature of the contest.
A Perth win puts then just one loss back of the Breakers and 2-0 up in the head-to-head. But a Breakers victory would see them push out by three games in the loss column, which even at this early stage would be tough to haul in.
"We've made baby steps so far, but going into this middle part of the season we can stretch out the gap again like we did last year and let them all fight each other.
"It's definitely about us, more so than worrying about where they are,'' added Bruton. ''In the end they'll figure themselves out and get there."It's unclear whether the Breakers will have to go without backup big man Will Hudson.
The American will travel but will be a game-time decision as he deals with an ankle sprain.But regardless of whether it's via small ball, or their regular lineup, the formula will remain the same when it comes to battling these Cats.
"They live off offensive boards, they live off your turnovers and fatsbreak points and they live off the foul line," said Bruton. "You've got to limit that and if they beat us by making Js all night then that's how it goes."