Game Of The Week: Khimki vs. UNICS

Game Of The Week: Khimki vs. UNICS

Khimki Moscow Region hosts UNICS Kazan in a regular season showdown.

BCMO (capacity 4,000), Khimki, Russia

7:00 PM (7:00 MSK), March 26, 2018

Match TV,

Face to Face
The Khimki – UNICS rivalry has a rich history, including a memorable 2010-11 season when these two clubs played nine times, including in the VTB United League Final Four.

Moscow Region defeated UNICS on its home court in the semifinals, then stunned CSKA in the finals for the VTB United League title. In recent years, the rivalry has cooled a bit with Khimki and UNICS yet to match up again in the postseason.

The Yellow-Blues smoked Kazan twice last season (87-70 and 98-73). UNICS took revenge in the first meeting of the 2017-18 campaign. Trailing by 11 points with two minutes remaining, the Tatar club completed a sensational comeback to win, 80-79. Khimki holds the overall series lead, 8-6. 

Looking Back

Khimki would need a miracle similar to the one that took place in Kazan on December 3 to finish in the top four and earn home-court advantage. There’s also no way to know what the final standings will look like. If the season ended today, Moscow Region would face Krasnodar in the first round, but there are plenty of other possible scenarios. In any case, Khimki will be looking for revenge on Monday after letting the first meeting slip away in Kazan. 

The circumstances for UNICS are much different. Kazan is competing for 1st place, with a game vs. CSKA on tap following Monday’s rumble. The schedule gets easier the rest of the way, but the regular season title could be decided in the next two games, depending on the results. A win in Moscow Region would give the Tatars a much better chance of retaining the top seed in the postseason. 

Balance of Power
Khimki continues to balance EuroLeague and VTB United League competition as Georgios Bartzokas’ men played twice in Europe this week. Khimki began by clinching a first-ever postseason berth with a win over Anadolu Efes on the road. The week ended on a sour note, however, as the Yellow-Blues fell to rival CSKA by 17, 90-73. 

The schedule does not get easier with Khimki taking on Fenerbahce only a few days after the visit from UNICS.

Kazan was eliminated from the EuroCup in the quarterfinals and now needs to adjust to only playing once a week. They should be rested and prepared for the Monday night game in Khimki. 

Due in part to the unrelenting calendar, Khimki has battled a rash of injuries all season. Tyler Honeycutt, James Anderson, Andrei Zubkov and Dmitry Sokolov are all unavailable, leaving a much heavier burden on the remaining players. That could be a factor as Khimki prepares for its third game in a week.

The coaching will likely have an outsized impact, given the challenging and unusual circumstances. The two men in charge, Greek compatriots Dimitris Priftis and Georgios Bartzokas, are highly respected and known for exacting the best from their teams. Greek basketball is known for defense, discipline, attention to detail and execution of the game plan: Khimki and UNICS are no different. Priftis and Bartzokas know each other well from the Greek league, where they often faced each other in the early 2000’s, each winning Coach of the Year honors. Khimki’s boss has a longer list of achievements, but that did not prevent Priftis from coming out on top in the first meeting of the season.

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UNICS head coach Dimitris Priftis:
– Khimki is a talented, well-coached team. They play very well and demonstrate quality basketball. Their qualification to the EuroLeague playoffs makes that obvious. This will unquestionably be a tough game for us. Khimki can score in so many ways, plus they are very smart on defense and take advantage of their players’ size. Energy and smart play will allow us to counter them.

Khimki head coach Georgios Bartzokas:
– Without question, a very difficult game awaits us. UNICS right now is completely focused on one competition: VTB United League. This is a very well-organized team with experienced point guards: Colom and Ponkrashov. Our opponent is athletic and has a good bench. It won’t be easy for us after two EuroLeague games.