C J Bruton languidly bounces the basketball at the edge of the Vector Arena three-point line. He fakes to dribble past Mika Vukona, pulls up and drills the three-point jump shot. "Come here, Mika," he roars at one of the league's best defenders. "COME HERE, MIKA. YEAH."
The cocky showman recently voted the ANBL's best trash-talker clearly has his swagger back. It's a far cry from the last time the Breakers were preparing for a game at the central city stadium, against Townsville in November, when the main topic was Bruton's brutal form collapse.
Back then the 36-year-old guard admitted he was struggling on aching knees. He vowed to play through the pain but after hobbling around for seven minutes and failing to put up a shot in the 88-74 victory, he was benched indefinitely.
A comeback that is now four games old has been measured rather than spectacular, however the three consecutive third-quarter bombs Bruton landed last week to subdue the Melbourne Tigers underscored his value to the side. When the mood takes him, Bruton can still light it up. And with the crowd at Vector expected to be close to its 7900 capacity - pre-sales yesterday had climbed above 7000 - the arch-showman should be in the mood against Sydney Kings tonight.
"It is always good to get back to a place where you can contribute," he said.
The tongue-lashing Vukona got at training appears to have been partly down to an ongoing rivalry, and partly down to Bruton reasserting his place in the pecking order.
"I need to show these guys so they believe in me that in practice every day I can bust every single one of yous and I can give that energy," he said.
"All week we've been talking about how Mika's team hasn't won many ball games [in practice]. I decided to rub it in and bring the energy so that his team try to compete a bit harder."
Competing hard is precisely what the Breakers have been doing over a three-match win streak that has them in a dogfight with Perth at the top of the NBL ladder. Lockdown defence has been the key to the run. It has also been a feature of the two previous matches against Sydney, with Kings posting their two lowest totals of the season in defeats by the Breakers.
The 98-61 victory the Breakers notched in October remains the biggest win by any team this season, while the Breakers again strangled the Kings in a 76-59 drubbing in Auckland. That result extended the Breakers' streak over the Kings to five matches, a fact the reborn motormouth Bruton might well remind the visitors of tonight.
"You gotta know that you can walk the walk," he said. "But you have also got to enjoy it. When I play the other teams it depends on what you do to upset me. I can come that way or I can just come on the floor and make sure my team is playing hard, and that when I come off that court we are going better than when I came on it."By Steve Deane Email Steve