Game Of The Week: UNICS vs. Khimki

Game Of The Week: UNICS vs. Khimki

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

Basket Hall (capacity 7,000), Kazan, Russia

7:00 PM (7:00 MSK), February 15, 2019

Match TV,

Face to face
UNICS defeated Khimki twice last season, 80-79 and 83-80. 

Moscow Region got revenge in a big way, defeating Kazan at the 2018 Final Four, 76-71, to book a spot in the EuroLeague. 

Khimki also won the first meeting of this season, 78-65, at home. Overall, Khimki holds a 10-7 lead in League competition. 

Looking back

UNICS (13-3) and Khimki (12-4), along with 4th-place Lokomotiv-Kuban (11-5), are fighting for the second seed in the postseason. These teams also have a shot at finishing first, but CSKA remains the favorite to win the regular season. Second place means home-court advantage in the first two rounds and the likelihood of avoiding a match-up with the Army Men until the finals. Given the upcoming schedules for both of those teams (Kazan still plays Astana, Loko, CSKA, Zenit, Avtodor; Khimki meets CSKA, Nizhny Novgorod, Astana, Loko), this game is unlikely to determine second place, but it will have a significant impact, especially for Khimki, which would drop two games back with a loss. 

The week behind
UNICS and Khimki played big games on Monday. Kazan defeated CSKA for the first time in three years, while Khimki lost a nail-biter at home to Lokomotiv. The White and Green have been playing well and have a chance to make it back-to-back impressive wins at home. Khimki has lost two in a row in the League and can’t afford a third-straight defeat. 

Still no Shved
Khimki was expecting Alexey Shved’s return last week. The Khimki star started practicing with the team, but as it turned out, he’s not ready to return quite yet. Doctors recommended waiting several more weeks to ensure a full recovery. With Shved on the roster, Khimki would be a completely different team.

Home fortress
You can’t ignore UNICS’s home-court advantage this season. The White and Green, alongside CSKA, are the only teams in the League to remain unbeaten at home. On Monday, Kazan took down the Army Men, whom they hadn’t defeated since June 2016. They are the only club with nine home wins (CSKA has eight). The Tatar club has also not lost at home in the EuroCup, where it is 8-0. 

Familiar faces
Anton Ponkrashov (2007-2009) and Maxim Sheleketo (2014-2016) have experience playing for Moscow Region. Khimki has only one former Kazan player: Petr Gubanov suited up for UNICS from 2014-2016. 

Pierria Henry vs. Egor Vyaltsev. 

UNICS’s play is largely dependent on the aggressiveness of its guards. Henry has a leading role in Dimitris Priftis’ system, plus he has been very good in clutch situations. That could be important on Friday. Most meetings between these teams in recent seasons have gone down to the wire. Only a few days ago, we saw Henry take over in the thriller vs. CSKA. 

Since Rimas Kurtinaitis’ return to Khimki, Egor Vyaltsev has played a much more important role and regained a spot in the starting lineup. Known for his stubborn defense, the guard will try to contain Henry. The League record-holder for most 3’s in a game is also a threat at the other end. 

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13. That’s how much Khimki beat UNICS by in their first match-up (78-65). Kazan will be focused on both winning and possibly exceeding Moscow Region’s margin of victory to steal the tiebreaker, should these teams end the season with identical records. 

If Kazan wins by 13, the team with the bigger +/- for the season will finish on top. If that number is also tied, the team which scored more points in the season gets the edge.

UNICS head coach Dimitris Priftis: “This is a high-level game. We anticipate a very difficult game with a good team. We need to control the ball and our emotions and play defense like we did on Monday vs. CSKA. If we are ready psychologically, there shouldn’t be any unpleasant surprises for our team. It will be very important to measure our level of play against our opponent’s.”

Khimki head coach Rimas Kurtinaitis: “Our goal is to finish the regular season no worse than second, so we don’t have any more margin for error. We came up short against Zenit and Lokomotiv, but those are very good teams, of course. We are going to Kazan for a win. Losing by one will not be acceptable for us. UNICS is a tough team and playing well right now, despite injuries.”