Quarterfinals: Khimki's Offense Or Loko's Defense?

Khimki Moscow Region plays Lokomotiv-Kuban Krasnodar in the playoff quarterfinals.

Khimki, 2014-15 VTB United League finalists, 2014-15 Eurocup winners
Lokomotiv-Kuban, 2014-15 VTB United League semifinalists

Time & Location:
Game 1. BCMO, Khimki. 5:30 PM (5:30 PM MSK), May 1, 2016
Game 2. BCMO, Khimki. 6:30 PM (6:30 PM MSK), May 3, 2016
Game 3. Basket Hall, Krasnodar. 6:00 PM (6:00 PM MSK), May 6, 2016
Game 4 (if necessary). Basket Hall, Krasnodar. 6:00 PM (6:00 PM MSK), May 8, 2016
Game 5 (if necessary). BCMO, Khimki. May 11, 2016

Match TV (Russia), Match! Nash Sport (Russia), United League TV

Regular Season:
Khimki: 4th place (22-8)
Lokomotiv-Kuban: 5th place (22-8)

Face To Face
These two elite Russian clubs do not have much mutual history, meeting only 20 times across all competitions. Moscow Region currently holds a 13-7 series edge.

But last season was an exception as Khimki and Lokomotiv squared off seven times. The Yellow-Blues started with an 87-67 win on the road and picked up another win at home, 85-78. The best, however, was yet to come as Khimki and Lokomotiv met in the playoff semifinals, staging an epic five-game series. Despite a ravaged frontcourt, Moscow Region overcame a 2-1 deficit to eliminate Krasnodar and advance to the finals.

Khimki and Loko traded home wins this season: 101-88 in Moscow Region and 94-81 in Krasnodar.

Looking Back

Khimki not only eliminated Lokomotiv from the VTB United League playoffs last season; the club also won the Eurocup, one of Krasnodar's goals during the 2014-15 campaign. After coming up short, Krasnodar made serious changes to its roster and coaching staff. It looks like Kuban made the right call. Georgios Bartzokas's men have been this season's Cinderella team in the Euroleague, becoming the second Russian club ever to make it to the Final Four.

Lokomotiv had to work hard for the Final Four berth. Early on, Krasnodar's success in Europe came at the expense of its VTB United League campaign, as the team stumbled to a 5-5 start. The team also needed time to adapt to new players and a new coach. Even then, despite a 17-3 finish the regular season, Krasnodar ended up in 5th place, forced to open the quarterfinals on the road vs. Khimki.

At least Loko's transition period is well in the rearview mirror. Khimki, on the other hand, decided to part ways with Rimas Kurtinaitis in March. The players say the team has improved since bringing in Dusko Ivanovic, but no one, not even Khimki, probably knows what will happen in the series vs. Krasnodar. Moscow Region has home-court advantage and a burning desire to bounce back from an unsuccessful Euroleague campaign. Loko, meanwhile, can boast better chemistry and communication on the court, as well as a deeper understanding of its strengths and weaknesses.

No matter the outcome, the Khimki - Lokomotiv-Kuban series will dominate headlines throughout the quarterfinals with both clubs talented enough to make a run at the championship.

Loko's defense or Khimki' offense?

Lokomotiv has been one of the best defensive teams in Europe this season. The Red-Greens gave up only 71.8 points per outing, tops in the VTB United League. Moscow Region, meanwhile, boasts the top offense, scoring 95.5 points per game on average. Whichever team can impose its preferred tempo and style of play has a much better chance of winning.

Khimki dictated the pace in the first regular-season meeting between these clubs. Moscow Region was the only team (including the Euroleague) to score 100 points against Loko (though it needed two overtimes). Do you even need to know the outcome? Prior to the return game in Krasnodar, Bartzokas told his men not to compete with Khimki on offense, fast breaks or flashy guard play. He wanted his club to impose its own will and his players delivered, limiting Khimki to 81 points. Not surprisingly, Kuban came out on top. What will happen this time?

Alexey Shved (Khimki) vs. Malcolm Delaney (Lokomotiv-Kuban).

Shved and Delaney are two established stars and crucially important to their teams on offense. Both, however, have struggled at times with consistency. In the first meeting of the season, Shved erupted for 32 points, 12 assists and some big 3-pointers), while Delaney struggled to 11 points on 3-17 shooting. After the game, Delaney apologized publicly on Twitter. He then got his revenge at home, leading Loko to a win while Shved struggled to find his touch.

Shved and Delaney can be hot and cold, but Ivanovic and Bartzokas each need their star player to step up and deliver results in the playoffs.

Lokomotiv's participation in the Euroleague Final Four.

A lot of experts have pointed that Loko is only using 7-8 men in its rotation. Earlier this week, the club played in two very intense games, against Barcelona on Tuesday and Zenit on Thursday. Bartzokas said after the defeat in St. Petersburg that his guys had a tough time recovering from the battle with the Spaniards, which demanded a lot of strength and energy. Now the Red-Blues get started in the VTB United League postseason on Sunday.

The Khimki - Loko series won't be easy for either team and is unlikely to go three games. Check out last season's semifinal matchup to get a taste of how exhausting these duels can be. Also of note: Game 5, if necessary, is scheduled for May 11, two days prior to Lokomotiv and CSKA's meeting in the Euroleague semifinals.

Competing in the Euroleague Final Four is a big deal for Lokomotiv. A triumph in Berlin would make the team true legends. It's obvious that Kuban won't sacrifice the VTB United League quarterfinals for that. But the team may be forced to make some tough decisions. Khimki has had a week off and will try to push the tempo whenever possible. Each of these factors could have an impact on the outcome.

Interesting Facts
- One of Lokomotiv's stars, Victor Claver, played for Khimki last season. During the summer, Moscow Region decided not to extend his contract. Another Red-Green forward, Nikita Balashov, also has experience at Khimki, suiting up for the club in 2013-14. Meanwhile, Khimki's Maxim Sheleketo played for the Railwaymen from 2008-2013.

- Claver came up big for Krasnodar in both games vs. his former club, scoring 17 and 21 points, respectively.

- Khimki led the league in offense (95.5 points per game), while Lokomotiv was tops in defense (71.8 points allowed per game).

Khimki head coach Dusko Ivanovic:
- Loko is playing great this season, which they proved by reaching the Euroleague Final Four. This is a very strong opponent, but we want to be in the semifinals, especially with the series beginning in Khimki. All of our thoughts are on the first game. I think the series will depend on our defense. That's where we need to focus our attention. Lokomotiv is a quick team. They don't have a classic center, everyone can shoot and play good one-on-one basketball. Against a team like that, you need smart defense.

Lokomotiv-Kuban head coach Georgios Bartzokas:
- Khimki has a terrific collection of players. The roster ranks among the elite of European basketball. We need to have the right approach to the upcoming two weeks and not look too far ahead. We've gone game by game since the start of the season and simply prepared for the next contest, which has worked for us. The same approach should help in the postseason. On Sunday, we need to play our best and be ready mentally to compete.

- The Khimki - Lokomotiv-Kuban series will go five games, - says EuroBasket 2007 champion Alexey Savrasenko, who played for both Khimki and Lokomotiv-Kuban. - I can't predict who will ultimately win. In the last game vs. Enisey, Khimki center James Augustine suffered a serious injury. That's a big loss since Krasnodar is really good on the glass. I think Loko will do everything it can to win Game 1. That contest will have the biggest impact on the series.

Team Stats

99.5 Points 82.7
25.0/43.4 (57.7%) 2-pointers 19.3/37.3 (51.7%)
10.3/25.3 (40.5%) 3-pointers 9.6/25.6 (37.4%)
14.7/20.0 (73.2%) Free throws 15.4/20.6 (74.6%)
38.8 Rebounds 36.9
24.7 Assists 19.2
12.6 Turnovers 13.0
9.1 Steals 8.7
3.5 Blocks 3.5
21.7 Fouls 22.4

Player Stats:

Alexey Shved (16.5) Points Anthony Randolph (17.4)
Josh Boone (9.1) Rebounds Victor Claver (6.5)
Tyrese Rice (6.6) Assists Malcolm Delaney  (4.3)
Paul Davis (1.5) Steals Dontaye Draper (1.3
Josh Boone (1.1) Blocks Anthony Randolph (1.1)