Required Viewing: December 22-24

Required Viewing: December 22-24

Seven regular-season games will be played on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

Saturday, December 22

Enisey Russia – Kalev Estonia

Time: 4:00 PM (12:00 MSK)
Place: Arena.Sever, Krasnoyarsk, Russia

Enisey: Last week, Krasnoyarsk was matched up with a different Baltic club, VEF Riga. The victory not only helped Enisey close the gap on the top-eight, it also showcased the Siberian club’s improving defense. For the first time this season, Oleg Okulov’s men gave up fewer than 70 points. With a win on Saturday, Enisey can trade places in the standings with 8th-ranked Kalev. 

Kalev: Despite a blowout loss to Astana, Tallinn remains in the top-eight, at least for now, needing a win vs. Enisey to shore up its record. Even though Kalev is ranked higher than the Siberians in the standings, Enisey will likely be favored. The visitors have struggled so far on the road–only two wins in seven appearances–and score nearly 13 fewer points per game on the road than at home (79.1 vs. 91.7).

Zielona Gora Poland – Lokomotiv-Kuban Russia

Time: 6:00 PM (8:00 MSK)
Place: CRS Hala Zielona Gora, Zielona Gora, Poland

Zielona Gora: After a solid start, the League newbies have lost four in a row. Boris Savovic’s departure for Avtodor only added salt to the wound. The experienced Serb led the team in scoring (13.3) and rebounds (5.9), two areas in which the Poles have struggled mightily to compete: second-last in offense (77.4 points per game) and last in rebounding (30.9 rebounds per game. 

Lokomotiv-Kuban: If one of the factors in the shocking loss to Astana was the lack of rebounding, then the Railwaymen clearly regrouped in time for the game vs. Alba, where they punished the German club with 42 rebounds and control of the tempo. Loko ended up winning, 92-82, and clinched 1st place in its group. That accomplishment should give the team a nice boost entering the weekend. 

Sunday, December 23

Astana Kazakhstan – Avtodor Russia

Time: 3:00 PM (12:00 MSK)
Place: SC Velotrek, Astana, Kazakhstan

Astana: Astana continues to turn heads. Emil Rajkovic’s team is easily the most improved squad this season. While the blowout win vs. Kalev didn’t create much buzz, Astana’s steady climb up the standings has been very much unexpected. The Kazakh club is already one win shy of matching last season’s total and knocking on the door for 3rd place. 

Avtodor: Astana has its hands full against Avtodor. Dusan Alimpijevic’s men are on the rise, blowing out Leyden in European competition following the wins over Zenit and Nizhny Novgorod. Avtodor has scored 90 or more points in each of the victories. New signing Boris Savovic has blended quickly with the team, putting up 16 points and six rebounds vs. the Dutch. Astana, however, has significantly beefed up its defense, holding opponents below 80 points in each of its last three outings. 

Nizhny Novgorod Russia – PARMA Russia

Time: 5:00 PM (5:00 MSK)
Place: FOK Meshchersky, Nizhny Novgorod, Russia

Nizhny Novgorod: Nizhny recorded one of the biggest wins in Week 10, dealing Khimki its first loss of the season on the road. Even though Moscow Region was without leading scorers Anthony Gill and Alexey Shved, Nizhny’s victory is impressive considering the visitors scored 93 points on the League’s top defense, which had been allowing fewer than 70 points per game. The Volga club built on the win with victories over Anvil in the Champions League and Samara in the Russian Cup. 

PARMA: The Ural club also enjoyed a productive weekend. Thanks to a miraculous 3-pointer from Kodi Justice, PARMA took down heavily-favored UNICS at home. Right now, PARMA and Nizhny are tied with identical records. They even have identical +/- on the season, having been outscored by opponents by 61 points. 

VEF Latvia – CSKA Russia

Time: 5:00 PM (6:00 MSK)
Place: Arena Riga, Riga, Latvia

VEF: CSKA’s winning streak vs. VEF is one of the longest in the League, stretching to 15 games. Once again, VEF will be the underdog in this one, entering the game with the League’s worst record. Though CSKA will only have two days between playing in the EuroLeague and traveling to Tallinn, the Army Men have enough depth and talent to win this game easily. CSKA leads the League in scoring and efficiency rating, whereas VEF ranks 14th in both categories. 

CSKA: The Red and Blue bounced back quickly from the loss to Fenerbahce, blowing out a different Turkish team, Anadolu Efes, by 18 points. Sergio Rodriguez achieved a remarkable individual accomplishment in the win, become only the 5th player (and first Spaniard) in EuroLeague history with 1,000 assists. Former CSKA star playmaker Milos Teodosic is also on the list. 

UNICS Russia – Tsmoki-Minsk Belarus

Time: 6:00 PM (6:00 MSK)
Place: Basket Hall, Kazan, Russia

UNICS: After an unexpected loss to PARMA, Kazan, according to Dimitris Priftis, challenged itself to win its next  VTB LeagueLeagu and finish 2018 EuroCup competition on a high note. UNICS achieved the latter goal with a hard-fought road win over Skyliners. 

During December, UNICS only scored more than 80 points once (vs. Unicaja). When it comes to offense, the title contenders are far from the best, ranking below even Sunday’s opponent (Minsk averages 82.0, while UNICS averages 80.). 

Tsmoki-Minsk: However, in a different component–defense–Kazan has a big edge vs. the Dragons. Tsmoki gives up 96.5 points per game on the road (only Enisey surrenders more). The loss of Stefan Moody also does not bode well for Tsmoki. The American guard splintered defenses with his ability to get in the lane and find open teammates. Aliaksandr Krutsikau’s biggest challenge now is to rebuild his defense, which gives up more points per game than any other team in the League. 

Monday, December 24

Khimki Russia – Zenit Russia

Time: 8:00 PM (8:00 MSK)
Place: BCMO, Khimki, Russia
TV: Match TV,

Khimki: Khimki’s nine-game winning streak came to an abrupt end last week vs. an unlikely opponent: Nizhny Novgorod. Moscow Region also struggled against Maccabi in the EuroLeague. The reasons for the downturn are easy to pinpoint: While battling a brutal schedule, Khimki has been forced to use a small rotation due to the absence of its two leading scorers (Gill and Shved combine for nearly 35 points in VTB League action). Friday’s game vs. Darussafaka won’t make Monday’s showdown with Zenit any easier. Fortunately for the Yellow and Blue, both games are at home. 

Zenit: Vasily Karasev’s club has lost back-to-back games after briefly inserting itself into the race for the top-three. Both losses were closely-contested, with St. Petersburg erasing a big deficit vs. UNICS in the 4th quarter before coming up short, then blowing a 19-point 3rd-quarter lead to Avtodor. But there was some good news this week. Despite losing in the EuroCup to Villeurbanne, St. Petersburg advanced to the next round of the competition, where they are in the same group as UNICS.