Four VTB United League games are scheduled on Saturday and Sunday.
Saturday, December 16
Time: 4:00 PM (4:00 MSK)
Place: Basket Hall, Krasnodar, Russia
TV: Match TV, VTB-League.com
Lokomotiv-Kuban: The big weekend showdown is more than a meeting between top-three clubs. With a win, Kuban can open up a one-game lead on Zenit. With a defeat, the Railwaymen will drop into 3rd behind St. Petersburg. On December 14, Loko picked up a win over Lietuvos Rytas in the EuroCup thanks to another signature defensive performance. Expect Sasa Obradovic to try and slow the tempo against Zenit, too, and keep the scoring as low as possible.
Zenit: Vasily Karasev’s club has won seven straight in the League. After a loss in Week 1, St. Petersburg has gone undefeated, which is remarkable considering the number of injuries the club has overcome. Zenit has found a nice balance between speed and execution, ranking second in the League in assists and first in turnovers, only 10.4 per game. Sergey Karasev has been on fire recently, scoring 27 points in the most recent game vs. Villeurbanne. Without another big game from the star forward, Zenit will have a tough time breaking down Kuban’s defenses.
Sunday, December 17
Time: 3:00 PM (12:00 MSK)
Place: Velotrek SC, Astana, Kazakhstan
Astana: Last week, the Kazakh club hosted another powerhouse, Lokomotiv-Kuban. Nothing worked for Kostas Flevarakis’s men in that game as Astana scored a League season-low 50 points. UNICS is unlikely to pose the same threat on defense as Krasnodar–Kazan has different weapons, such as its unselfish offense. Astana’s best chance will be to catch Kazan in transition. But in order to win, the Kazakh club will also need to improve on its offensive efficiency. Astana is last in the League in free-throw and two-point field goal percentage, and 11th in three-point shooting.
UNICS: Kazan’s opponent is quite effective on defense, giving up only 81 points per game.Expect Astana to sit back on defense from tip-off and try to wear down UNICS. The visitors will have only three days to prepare for Astana following an exhausting battle and defeat to David Blatt’s Darussafaka. Nevertheless, UNICS will be favored on the road in Astana, exceeding the home team in almost every key statistical category. Maurice Ndour has been a nice addition for the Greens, and could be an X-factor on Sunday.
Time: 4:00 PM (4:00 MSK)
Place: Sports Palace, Nizhny Novgorod, Russia
Nizhny Novgorod: Nizhny was unlucky in last week’s loss to Khimki. Despite playing its best game of the season and leading by three with seconds remaining, Alexey Shved was able to rescue Khimki in regulation as Moscow Region went on to win in the extra period. There’s a lot at stake in Sunday’s game vs. PARMA with both of these teams battling for a postseason berth. Nizhny continues to struggle on defense, giving up 86.6 points per game. Injuries have also plagued the club, with guard Maxim Grigoryev undergoing another operation on Wednesday.
PARMA: After picking up a second win and going toe-to-toe with CSKA and Lokomotiv-Kuban, PARMA unexpectedly was blown out in Krasnoyarsk. PARMA gave up 96 points to Enisey, more than any team except Khimki and CSKA. Perm was able to shut down Enisey on the perimeter, but had no luck defending the paint. Nizhny’s high-octane offense could also pose problems as Stefan Jelovac looks to follow up a 32-point masterpiece vs. Khimki and help Perm secure a road win in Nizhny.
Time: 5:00 PM (6:00 MSK)
Place: Kalevi Spordihall, Tallinn, Estonia
Kalev: These two Baltic rivals are currently at the bottom of the standings, but their most recent outings could not have been more different. While VEF got blown out by PARMA, Kalev was agonizingly close to posting win number two of the season against Tsmoki-Minsk. Another big game from Isaiah Briscoe (27 points) was a positive sign, despite the defeat. VEF has been shaky on defense, so expect Briscoe to come out firing again in this one.
VEF: Riga had a big break in the schedule, going two weeks between VTB United League games. VEF was able to make one move during the lull in action, signing three-time Latvian champ Kaspars Berzins. The experienced center should make VEF’s frontcourt much better. In the game against Perm, for example, Riga only scored 24 points in the paint.