Khimki Moscow Region hosts Zenit St. Petersburg in the Game of the Week.
BCMO (capacity 4,000), Khimki, Russia
8:00 PM (8:00 MSK), December 24, 2018
Match TV, VTB-League.com
Face to Face
Since joining the League in 2014, Zenit hasn’t had time to build up any serious rivalries, with one exception: Khimki.
The two teams played six times in Zenit’s debut season (including four times in the EuroCup). The biggest showdown, however, came a few years later. The 2017 Playoffs semifinal match-up between Zenit and Khimki was one of the best in League history as Moscow Region erased a 2-0 series deficit to win in five games.
Khimki enjoys a 10-7 lead in the all-time series, including a 7-6 edge in League meetings.
Khimki began the season with nine consecutive wins, but suffered a surprising setback to Nizhny Novgorod last week at home, giving up 93 points. Georgios Bartzokas said his team was fatigued both physically and mentally. Meanwhile, Khimki stars Alexey Shved and Anthony Gill remain out of commission with injuries.
Moscow Region played twice in the EuroLeague this week, losing big in Tel Aviv before clawing out a win vs. Darussafaka, despite nearly squandering an eight-point lead with a minute to play.
Zenit’s season is not going much better. The team has lost four in a row, including the EuroCup. St. Petersburg led by 19 a week ago in Saratov, but ended up losing in the final seconds. Barely above .500 with a 5-4 record, Zenit has dropped to 6th place.
The front office did not waste any time addressing the slow start, firing Vasily Karasev, who has been in charge since 2014. Soon after, the news came out that Spaniard Joan Plaza would be his replacement. It’s impossible to predict how the team will respond. Teams often play with extra intensity to impress their new boss, but Plaza has a big challenge ahead, facing 2nd-place Khimki.
If St. Petersburg loses on Monday, the club will drop to .500 after 10 games, far below the team’s expectations entering the season. This could be uncharted territory for the Blue, White and Sky Blues, who typically excel during the regular season.
Khimki continues to play without its two best players. Alexey Shved has a broken finger, while Anthony Gill has an injured back.
Shved’s absence means the Game of the Week won’t feature a showdown between two Russian stars: Karasev vs. Shved.
Khimki and Zenit were both busy in Europe this week. Khimki played twice in the EuroLeague vs. Maccabi and Darussafaka. The team lost its third in a row in Tel Aviv, before ending its skid on Friday. The team, however, is 12th in the standings with a 5-9 record.
Zenit finished up the first round of EuroCup competition with three straight losses. On Tuesday, St. Petersburg lost to Villeurbanne in overtime, but still advanced to the next round, courtesy of a 4th-place tiebreaker with Turk Telekom.
In Shved and Gill’s absence, Dee Bost has tried to fill the leadership void. The speedy playmaker lacks consistency, but has produced on offense. Thanks to increased playing time, Bost led Khimki in scoring vs. Nizhny Novgorod and Darussafaka with 20 and 19 points, respectively.
Zenit fans will remember Stefan Markovic, who joined Khimki following the 2016-17 season.
St. Petersburg, meanwhile, has two former Khimki players: Vadim Panin wore Yellow and Blue in 2010-11, while Anton Pushkov played in Moscow Region from 2011-13.
Khimki head coach Georgios Bartzokas: “First of all, I want to mention coach Karasev, who left Zenit after so many years of work. He did a good job at the club and I want to wish him luck. As for the game, Zenit has a lot of potential. New coach Joan Plaza will make changes, of course, but he’s only been there for one day. We are very motivated. It’s very important for us to win tomorrow.”
Zenit head coach Joan Plaza: “I only held one practice with the team before flying to Moscow and arrived at the club only two days before the game, so it would be stupid right now to tear apart what the previous coach built. In this game, I will follow the rules set by those who worked with the team before my arrival. After several consecutive losses, the important thing is to restore the players’ self-confidence.”