Two games featuring the League’s top four teams will be played on Monday, April 1.
CSKA – UNICS
Place: USH CSKA, Moscow, Russia
Time: 7:30 PM (7:30 MSK), April 1, 2019
TV: Match! Strana, VTB-League.com
What to know
CSKA (19-3) is on the verge of wrapping up the regular season title. Upcoming games vs. UNICS and Zenit could prove decisive as the Army Men are unlikely to lose vs. Nizhny Novgorod and Astana. Last week, Moscow got revenge on Khimki in the EuroLeague, but this team is never satisfied. April 1 provides an opportunity to pay back UNICS for a February loss in Kazan.
UNICS (16-4) is also determined to come out on top. Kazan failed to reach the EuroCup final as a largely positive European campaign was wiped out by two losses to Valencia. Since being eliminated, the White and Green have taken out their frustration on VEF, 82-52, in Riga. The Tatar club has had a full week to recover and prepare for an opponent for the first time in months. A win over CSKA in Moscow would be a huge boost to their confidence and would put UNICS in the driver’s seat for the top seed thanks to a superior head-to-head record vs. CSKA.
Playing at home. CSKA is very tough to beat in Moscow. The Army Men are 10-0 this season in the USH CSKA and Kazan’s only win in Moscow dates back to 2011. The reigning champions are especially dangerous in familiar surroundings and will be determined to continue their winning streak.
Kostas Kaimakoglou. In Loko guard Vitaly Fridzon’s opinion, the Greek’s play in the EuroCup quarterfinals was worth a five-year contract extension. Kostas has surprised many with his performance this spring, boosting his productivity on both ends of the floor. In the recent VTB League meeting with Lokomotiv, the 36-year-old forward recorded a signature nine points, five rebounds and four assists. His experience should help Kazan in a tough match-up where skill, strategy and mental toughness will all play a role.
CSKA head coach Dimitris Itoudis: “UNICS is a high-level team, which they’ve proved over the course of the year. They also had eight days to prepare, when we’ve really only had one. But that’s life and now we face a battle for 1st place in the VTB League. We’ve proved that we are ready for challenges and I trust my team.”
UNICS head coach Dimitris Priftis: “We face a very tough game against an excellent team. First of all, we need to diligent on defense. We can’t let our opponent score easy points in transition, we can’t commit turnovers and we need to control the glass. CSKA is a very strong team and we need to be focused both on defense and offense. Our opponent can easily punish us for any mistake.”
Lokomotiv-Kuban – Khimki
Place: Basket Hall, Krasnodar, Russia
Time: 8:00 PM (8:00 MSK), April 1, 2019
TV: Match! Igra, VTB-League.com
What to know
Lokomotiv (14-6) made its second coaching change of the season last week, bringing in Bob Donewald. The American began with a convincing win vs. Tsmoki-Minsk, but his first serious test comes on Monday vs. Moscow Region. After beating Khimki earlier this season on the road, a second victory would allow Krasnodar to pass Moscow Region in the standings and make up some ground on CSKA and UNICS. Loko is 4th at the moment, but a lot could change on April 1 with the right turn of events.
Khimki (15-5) is in the midst of a challenging stretch. The team is rebuilding on the fly, bringing in a new coach and several new players, impacting the team’s results. Khimki’s losing streak in the EuroLeague has reached seven games. The Yellow and Blue recently dropped three in a row in the League, too, but victories over CSKA, Kalev and Astana have followed. The fans can also take confidence in Khimki’s light schedule to close the season. After Lokomotiv, Moscow Region plays only one more top-eight team in Nizhny Novgorod. The team is focused now on the VTB League and would love to extend its current streak.
Bob Donewald. Teams tend to play with an extra edge after bringing in a new coach. It sounds trite, but it’s real. In the words of Lokomotiv captain Fridzon, Donewald quickly gave the team more freedom and set a more positive tone in the locker room. As for changes on the court, ball movement will be key for Loko. Krasnodar had 28 assists vs. Tsmoki. The players’ desire to prove themselves to their new coach will likely also be evident in the second game under their American boss.
Janis Timma. The Latvian struggled at Olympiacos under David Blatt, but since joining Khimki he’s looked like the star we remember at VEF and Zenit. Timma debuted vs. Kalev with 17 points, then followed up with 26 points and five rebounds in a hard-fought win over Astana. Khimki expects more of the same.
Lokomotiv-Kuban head coach Bob Donewald: “Khimki is a very talented team. Loko was able to beat them on the road, but Alexey Shved is healthy now and our opponent has also replaced several foreign players. Timma brings a lot to Khimki’s play and made them stronger. We have a lot of work to do to make progress. We need the support of the fans in the game vs. Khimki. We need their energy. This should be a great game.”
Khimki head coach Rimas Kurtinaitis: “This is the game of the year for us since we are fighting for the best possible finish in the regular season and we have to win in Krasnodar. Lokomotiv is one of our rivals and we’ll be above them in the standings with a win and a decent shot at finishing in 2nd place, although not everything depend on us. We’re ready. We played CSKA on Friday, so we won’t be as fresh as Lokomotiv, but that’s not new for us. The whole season has been this busy. Lokomotiv has a new coach and he’s spent one game with the team. It’s hard to say much about him yet. They played well. Loko enjoyed an easy win, since they are objectively better. They already have new plays, but we are ready for that. We played poorly at home in the first meeting. We’ll get revenge on the road.”