Blaze of glory or hail of Bullets?

By LAINE CLARK & WAYNE HEMING

THE Gold Coast Blaze knows% Brisbane is going to come out firing in an attempt to crash its basketball party.

Tonight's historic NBL season-opener at the Gold Coast Convention Centre is a huge day for the newcomers, with the last Gold Coast franchise having died 11 years ago.

But the Bullets are hungry to clinch back-to-back NBL crowns, %after winning the title last year for the first time in 20 years courtesy of a 21-game winning streak. "They are not going to do us any favours," Blaze coach Brendan Joyce said yesterday.

"I said to the players 'understand what you are in for'," he said.

"We will be in for a hell of a fight."

The sold-out Gold Coast venue will cheer on the Blaze, but Joyce is wary of his new team getting caught up in the hype.

"There is a danger of that, let's not kid ourselves," Joyce said.

"I've experienced it. At Wollongong when we went from the 1800-seat Snakepit to the 6000-seat Entertainment Centre we were overawed we lost our first game by 26.

"We've talked about what is expected and will try and handle it the best way we can."

Oddly, Bullets guard CJ Bruton has already provided the Blaze with inspiration.

He claimed the Gold Coast's roster featuring the likes of former Boomers James Harvey and Ben Melmeth, Kiwi international Pero Cameron and imports Juaquin Hawkins and Jason Crowe would make the finals in their first year.

"I hope so and I thank CJ for saying that," Joyce laughed.

"We are a bit of an unknown quality. We've got the top four teams from last season in our first five games.

"But we need to get people at the games, so we really need to get some wins against the top teams."

First hurdle is a fired-up Bullets.

"This game is probably more about us than it is about them," Bullets coach Joey Wright said.

"We need to come out and play our brand of basketball. The Blaze are going to have a lot of intensity and be ready to play, so we have to make sure we match that."

The Bullets lost legendary big man Mark Bradtke in the off-season but have high hopes for Kiwi international Craig Bradshaw, and still boast the services of reigning NBL MVP Sam Mackinnon. Last year's grand finalists Brisbane and Melbourne are favourites with the bookies. Cairns are the third fancy after an aggressive off-season recruiting drive.



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