With the All-Star Game behind us, the regular season is entering the home stretch. Teams have between 7-10 games remaining, each with their own goals for the second half of the season. Konstantin Kucher takes a look at all 14 teams and sets objectives for the rest of the season.
Current position: 14th place (2-14)
Goal: Evaluate Rostislav Vergun’s potential as head coach
Minsk’s season began with a losing streak, ultimately costing Aliaksandr Krutsikau his job. No one expects any miracles from Tsmoki at this point. But the front office does have a chance to evaluate 36-year-old Rostislav Vergun’s potential, who took over for Krutsikau. The new head coach debuted with four games against the League’s best teams (Khimki, CSKA, UNICS and Zenit), where his team had little hope of winning. Now that Tsmoki’s schedule is lightening up, we will have a better idea of how Vergun has handled his responsibilities as head coach.
Current position: 13th place (3-13)
Goal: Give the youth playing time
Perm doesn’t have much of a chance at the playoffs anymore. But the team does have an opportunity to test the potential of its young players. PARMA has plenty of talented players who could crack the rotation soon. For example, 21-year-old Alexander Platunov was named the Russian Cup MVP and already received an invitation to the Russian national team’s extended roster. 22-year-old Gleb Sheiko is also close to earning playing time at the professional level. Meanwhile, 19-year-old Sergei Tkachenko and 18-year-old Vadim Bondarenko are ready to make their debuts. Perhaps each of these players will have a chance to make an impact down the stretch.
Current position: 12th place (4-12)
Goal: Adapt to the League
Zielona Gora hasn’t been able to make a serious postseason push. You get the feeling the Poles weren’t ready for the level of competition in their new league. But wins over Nizhny Novgorod, PARMA and Avtodor have shown that the potential is there. Zielona Gora is steadily adapting to the League, attracting new players and improving on offense. The Poles are still capable of some surprises down the stretch.
Current position: 11th place (5-13)
Goal: Repeat last year’s miracle
VEF started last season with a 1-11 record, but somehow managed to finish in the top-eight. Riga is trying for a repeat this season. The Latvians have won three of five, helping VEF climb into 11th place. Only two wins separate Riga from the playoff zone and Janis Gailitis’ men appear fully capable of making another run down the stretch.
Current position: 10th place (6-10)
Goal: Defeat a top-tier team
Enisey is only one game out of the postseason. But Krasnoyarsk trails both Avtodor and Kalev and has a daunting schedule ahead, including upcoming away games in Krasnodar and Nizhny Novgorod, as well as a home game vs. Zenit. Oleg Okulov’s men likely need to secure an upset or two in the weeks ahead to stay alive in the playoff race.
Current position: 9th place (7-10)
Goal: Take advantage of the home court
The Estonians are in 9th place right now. But they have an excellent chance to move back into the top-eight. The Baltic club has played well all season thanks to a solid core of talent and disciplined play on the court. Now the schedule should also work in Kalev’s favor with seven of the team’s nine remaining games at home. Even the two road games–vs. Perm and Zielona Gora–look winnable. The Estonians have control of their own fate. If they can continue playing with confidence, reaching the postseason is an entirely attainable goal.
Current position: 8th place (7-10)
Goal: Gain consistency
This season has once again demonstrated that Avtodor president Vladimir Rodionov does not forgive mistakes. Avtodor has already played for four different coaches this season and new boss Evgeny Pashutin is under pressure. After two losses, the Russian coach may have been saved by the play of his young guns, Nikita Mikhailovsky and Anton Kvitkovskikh. The duo combined for 36 points in the win over Kalev. But that’s not a strategy likely to work every time. The combination of a challenging schedule, limited rotation and inconsistent play from the team’s stars could provoke the front office to make another change.
Current position: 7th place (8-10)
Goal: Manage playing in multiple competitions
Nizhny Novgorod qualified for the Champions League playoffs and has settled into the League’s top-eight, surprising many with their resilience. But it won’t get any easier going forward. The team continues to battle a busy schedule and injuries to its stars, which have limited its potential. The situation is unlikely to change in the near future. Nizhny Novgorod recently parted ways with center Ilya Popov by mutual agreement and lost Rod Odom to injury. Zoran Lukic is struggling to even fill out his roster on game day, which is not reassuring as the team enters the most important stretch of the season.
Current position: 6th place (10-6)
Goal: Finish in the top-four
Of the League’s top clubs, Zenit has been the most inconsistent this season. St. Petersburg started slow, got hot for a while, then lost a few more games. The decision to replace Vasily Karasev with Joan Plaza appeared like a smart one as Zenit took down CSKA and Khimki and moved back into the top-five. But a recent loss at home to VEF showed that the celebrations were premature. Zenit is still trying to find its game and is capable of both winning and losing any game. In order to finish the season in the top-four, St. Petersburg needs to be more consistent.
Current position: 5th place (10-6)
Goal: Survive a challenging schedule
Astana has already been the biggest surprise of the season. Even a three-game skid in January wasn’t able to break the team. The Kazakhs rebounded with several wins and returned to the top-five. But it won’t be easy to stay there. The upcoming schedule is likely to be Astana’s biggest challenge down the stretch. The Yellow and Blue have more road games than home games (6 vs. 4), plus they play each of the League’s top teams.
Current position: 4th place (12-5)
Goal: Learn to beat top-tier teams
Khimki is in crisis mode. After nine wins to start the season, the Yellow and Blue have lost five of eight. Moscow Region is trying to adapt to the expectations of a new coach, but Rimas Kurtinaitis has already lost three straight to rival elite teams. Khimki plays CSKA and Lokomotiv-Kuban in March, games which will likely be decisive in determining where Moscow Region finishes in the standings.
Current position: 3rd place (12-5)
Goal: Keep playing at a high level
Kuban was up and down to start the season, leading to Sasa Obradovic’s firing. Only recently has the team started to look like a medal contender with only one loss–on the road to CSKA–in its last eight games. Loko’s recent play has lifted the team into 3rd place. Now the primary objective is to keep playing at a high level. Last season, Krasnodar also impressed during the regular season, but quickly crashed out of the playoffs.
Current position: 2nd place (14-3)
Goal: Learn to play on the road
Kazan remains perfect at home (10-0). But the team’s record is much less impressive outside of Tatarstan (4-3). Priftis’ men give up five points more per game on the road and have losses to PARMA and Nizhny Novgorod, as well as Khimki. Upcoming games include visits to Krasnodar, Moscow, Tallinn and Saratov, where the Tatars could drop several more games if they are unable to solve their road woes.
Current position: 1st place (17-2)
Goal: Stay in 1st place
The Army Men opened the season with 13 consecutive wins, but have dropped two in the past month. Given injuries to Nando De Colo, Cory Higgins and Mikhail Kulagin, CSKA’s grip on 1st place has loosened a bit. The Red and Blue will have more games in the upcoming weeks against teams capable of taking them down.