What to watch for in this weekend’s slate of VTB United League games.
Saturday, December 9
Time: 4:00 PM (12:00 MSK)
Place: Arena.Sever, Krasnoyarsk, Russia
TV: Match TV, VTB-League.com
Enisey (1-5): The Siberians keep slipping in the standings. Instead of battling for a playoff spot, Krasnoyarsk is stuck in 11th place. Taking on a red-hot PARMA offense won’t be easy on Saturday and the home-court advantage may not help much either. On Wednesday, Enisey lost to Dinamo in the Champions League at the Arena.Sever and only has one home win in the VTB United League.
PARMA (2-6): The Ural club is playing with a lot of confidence right now. Perm has played opponents tight, even Loko and CSKA, over the past five games, capped by a convincing victory vs. VEF. That was the team’s first-ever win at home in VTB United League competition. Even the League’s top defensive teams have had trouble with Nikolajs Mazurs’ offense. With Enisey giving up a League-worst 91.7 points per game, the visitors will be on the attack from the opening tip.
Time: 5:00 PM (4:00 MSK)
Place: Kristall Sports Palace, Saratov, Russia
Avtodor (4-3): Evgeny Pashutin has yet to lose at Avtodor in the VTB League. Ahead of the showdown with Zenit, Saratov smoked Benfica by 39 points in the FIBA Europe Cup. Avtodor’s balance on offense was impressive in the win, as seven players scored in double digits. Pashutin is also using a wide rotation, with prospects Denis Pavlenko and Nikita Mikhailovsky earning significant playing time.
Zenit (6-1): Saturday’s game will be an interesting match-up between two teams that like to push the tempo. St. Petersburg is gradually getting healthy, but Vasily Karasev’s options remain limited, which Avtodor may try to exploit by pushing the pace even more than usual. Zenit’s biggest weapon is rebounding. The Blue-White-Sky Blues are ranked first in the League (38.0 per game), while Avtodor is in last place (29.7 per game).
Sunday, December 10
Time: 3:00 PM (12:00 MSK)
Place: SC Velotrek, Astana, Kazakhstan
Astana (2-5): Kazakhstan hasn’t played in the League since November 18. Kostas Flevarakis spent the break preparing his team for an important stretch of December games as well as filling out the roster–Astana recently announced the addition of American sniper Malcolm Grant.
The talented three-point shooter should strengthen Astana’s backcourt and help improve an already solid percentage from beyond the arc (37%, 7th in the League).
Lokomotiv-Kuban (6-1): Kuban recently moved ahead of CSKA in the defensive rankings. The Railwaymen are the only club to allow fewer than 70 points per game (68.4). Loko also has incredible balance with a top-three offense. After scoring only 67 points in a win over Tsmoki-Minsk, Krasnodar dropped 89 on Alba in the EuroCup.
Time: 2:00 PM (2:00 MSK)
Place: BCMO, Khimki, Russia
TV: Match! Nash Sport, VTB-League.com
Khimki (4-3): Moscow Region’s rollercoaster season continues. After blowing a double-digit lead in the final minutes in Kazan, Georgios Bartzokas’s men took care of business in the EuroLeague vs. Milan. Khimki smothered the Italian club on defense, while Alexey Shved set personal highs in points and efficiency rating in the EuroLeague, including a make from halfcourt. Given that Nizhny Novgorod has struggled on defense, the BCMO fans will expect more fireworks on offense.
Nizhny Novgorod (2-4): Nizhny has frequently compensated for setbacks in the United League with Europe Cup wins, finishing 1st in its group. But the team still has some major flaws, which Zoran Lukic is working to address. Nizhny continues to give up a lot of points, holding opponents below 84 only once. Khimki is better than Nizhny in almost every category, and the visitors will need a big-time breakthrough to push Moscow Region’s losing streak to four.
Time: 4:00 PM (4:00 MSK)
Place: Basket Hall, Kazan, Russia
TV: Match! Nash Sport, VTB-League.com
UNICS (6-0): These are the last two remaining unbeaten teams in the League. There won’t be an easy favorite on Sunday as both clubs have momentum and are playing balanced, smart basketball. CSKA and UNICS are the League’s top two teams in points scored and field-goal percentage, which should make for an exciting, up-and-down game.
Kazan is a perimeter-focused team, unlike CSKA, which relies on Nando De Colo’s ability to get into the paint. The Tatar club is also an excellent offensive rebounding team, pulling down 12.2 per game. That could be a key to victory if the score is close in the 4th quarter.
CSKA (8-0): Moscow has been a bit inconsistent in recent games. The defense struggled mightily against sub-.500 teams in PARMA and Kalev, giving up 94 and 100 points, respectively. While CSKA was able to squeak out wins in both games, UNICS will not be as easy to tame, especially after the thrilling last-second win vs. Khimki.
Time: 5:30 PM (5:30 MSK)
Place: Falcon Club, Minsk, Belarus
Tsmoki-Minsk (3-5): The Dragons continue to struggle on offense, scoring fewer than 60 points three times this season, including 56 in a recent loss to Lokomotiv-Kuban. At the same time, Tsmoki-Minsk is 7th in the standings with a 3-5 record, above teams like Nizhny Novgorod and Astana. The Belarusians may only average 68 points per game, but they have three victories and zero losses against teams with losing records.
Kalev (1-7): Tallinn hasn’t had any luck on the road, going 0-4 while giving up nearly 100 points per game. On Sunday, the League’s worst road team will travel to play the lowest-scoring team. This will be a return home for Donaldas Kairys, who spent the 2013-14 season in charge of Minsk. His arrival in Tallinn has sparked a turnaround–Kalev nearly upset CSKA in Moscow–and new signing Isaiah Briscoe is providing a huge spark on offense. Now Kalev’s challenge is to shut down Tsmoki’s offense, not an impossible task.