Final Prep: Zenit vs. UNICS And Khimki vs. Lokomotiv-Kuban

Final Prep: Zenit vs. UNICS And Khimki vs. Lokomotiv-Kuban

Four of the League’s top Final Four contenders clash on Wednesday.

Zenit – UNICS

Place: Yubileyny (capacity 6,381), St. Petersburg, Russia
Time: 4:00 PM (4:00 MSK)
TV: Match! Nash Sport,

What to Know: 
Zenit and UNICS are battling for playoff positioning as the season winds down, though they need some help to move up. St. Petersburg (15-7) could finish 3rd, but trails Lokomotiv-Kuban (16-6) both in the standings and head-to-head encounters. UNICS (21-2) still has a slim chance of finishing 1st, but needs CSKA to lose in Perm, on top of winning in St. Petersburg. That’s a lot of “if’s.” 

UNICS is more likely to finish 2nd and Zenit – 4th. If it does play out this way, these two teams wouldn’t meet in the postseason until the championship. Could this be a preview?

UNICS and Zenit played in the season opener in Kazan. St. Petersburg was ravaged by injuries and a choppy preseason, and ended up losing by 34, 94-60. The Blue-White-Sky Blues would love to get revenge. 

Zenit X-Factor:
Star power

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Stars are expected to win games. But consistency can be as important as talent and skill and Zenit’s best players have sometimes struggled to deliver consistent results. Against Enisey, Sergey Karasev and Kyle Kuric became the first teammates to each score 30 points in a game. In the following game vs. CSKA, however, they scored only 23. Vasily Karasev said after the game that “some players weren’t able to handle the Army Men’s pressure.” UNICS also knows how to shut down star players. Karasev and Kuric combined for only seven (!) points in the loss in Kazan. On the other hand, if they can deliver on Wednesday, Zenit should be in good shape. 

UNICS X-Factor:
Priftis’ game plan

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UNICS is playing its final game on the road and has little chance of bumping CSKA from the top line. Dimitris Priftis might rest some of his stars and give his bench extra playing time. This is a good chance to experiment with the roster and give more minutes to the reserves. But if Priftis chooses not to play at full strength, UNICS will be favored, even on the road. 

Khimki – Lokomotiv-Kuban

Place: BCMO (capacity 4,000), Khimki, Russia
Time: 4:00 PM (4:00 MSK)
TV: Match TV,

What to Know:
Lokomotiv-Kuban is in good shape to finish in 3rd place. Zenit is also a contender, but Krasnodar has a one-game lead and the tiebreaker. Last week, the Railwaymen showed they were over the EuroCup by beating down Enisey by 49 points, the biggest win in the League this season. Khimki, meanwhile, is trying to flip the page from the EuroLeague playoffs, and recovering fully is the team’s primary objective right now. Alexey Shved, Anthony Gill, Thomas Robinson and Stefan Markovic missed the game vs. Avtodor. Khimki lost, but could still finish in 5th place. At the same time, wiggling out of the 4-5 match-up in the playoffs could also mean avoiding CSKA until the finals and potentially open up an easier route to EuroLeague qualification. Of course, it might mean Loko in the quarterfinals, too… These teams could be seeing a lot more of each other in the coming weeks. 

Khimki X-Factor

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“After the EuroLeague quarterfinal series, we need to heal and try to recover from our injuries, since a lot of players were hurt and playing through pain.” Georgios Bartzokas is clear about his team’s priorities at the end of the regular season. It’s very likely Khimki will play without several stars against Loko–a potential playoff opponent. It would help speed up the recovery process, and keep Krasnodar guessing ahead of a much bigger showdown.

Lokomotiv-Kuban X-Factor

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Traditionally, Khimki has been a tough out for Loko. Krasnodar is 0-5 in its last five visits to Moscow Region, and 4-11 all-time vs. Khimki. History will be against Sasa Obradovic’s men on Wednesday.