Five regular season games are scheduled for Thursday and Friday.
Thursday, February 14
Time: 7:00 PM (6:00 MSK)
Place: Kristall Sports Palace, Saratov, Russia
Avtodor: Saratov has its backs against the wall. Their opponent on Thursday knocked them out of the top eight and Evgeny Pashutin’s men will have trouble catching the Estonians in the event of a loss. Both Evgeny Pashutin and Trae Golden have said they expect a very tough game considering the playoff stakes. In addition to the postseason race, there’s one more bit of intrigue: How will Nikita Mikhailovsky perform after being named as the All-Star replacement for Russian national team star Alexey Shved?
Kalev: The Estonians may not be huge favorites in Saratov, but they have all of the momentum right now. Kalev was extremely impressive on offense against Enisey, putting up 109 points (second-most in club history). Avtodor, of course, has struggled defensively, giving up 100 or more points three times in the last four games. Overall, Avtodor is the worst defensive team in the League (92.3 points allowed per game). Kalev has also won a majority of its games (four of seven) on the road.
Time: 8:00 PM (8:00 MSK)
Place: SIBUR Arena, St. Petersburg, Russia
Zenit: St. Petersburg’s winning streak has reached five games. Oddly, the team’s scoring has declined in each game: 107, 103, 93, 86, 79. The level of competition is the easy answer (after beating PARMA and Nizhny, Zenit took on several of the League’s top teams). In the 4th quarter against Tsmoki, when his team only scored five points, Joan Plaza gave minutes to some of his younger players–Ilya Usoltsev, Sergei Balashov, Konstantin Shevchuk. With a win over VEF, Zenit can catch Lokomotiv-Kuban in the standings, at least temporarily.
VEF: Though VEF entered the game against Kalev as an underdog (with half as many wins), they still secured a win in the Baltic derby, their fourth of the season (and fourth vs. Kalev, including the Estonian-Latvian league). The prognosis vs. St. Petersburg is not as rosy: VEF has never defeated the Russians in 12 tries. Despite putting up 85 points against Kalev, Riga still has the worst offense in the League (73.7 points per game).
Friday, February 15
Time: 7:30 PM (5:30 MSK)
Place: Molot Universal Sports Palace, Perm, Russia
PARMA: A six-game losing streak resulted in Nikolajs Mazurs becoming the latest coach to be fired this season in the League. Viacheslav Shushakov takes over interim responsibilities for now. Perm has already enjoyed its first success of the season, defeating Nizhny Novgorod in the Russian Cup final. One of Perm’s youngest players–21-year-old Alexander Platunov–was named Final Four MVP.
CSKA: History shows that CSKA almost always demolishes its next opponent following a loss. After dropping a game to Zenit earlier in the season, the Army Men blew out Tsmoki by 40 points. Without question, CSKA will try to make up for its loss to UNICS against Perm, a rivalry game that dates back to the 90’s. In previous games with PARMA, the Red and Blue have never had much trouble, winning five meetings by an average of 30 points.
Time: 7:00 PM (7:00 MSK)
Place: Basket Hall, Kazan, Russia
TV: VTB-League.com, Match TV
UNICS: Two of the top teams in the League meet in the Game of the Week. A win would be huge for both clubs with second place up for grabs and a chance to close the gap on CSKA, which has lost twice in the last month. Both teams last played on February 11 in a pair of top-four showdowns that exacted a heavy toll. Kazan, of course, will have the home-court advantage and boasts a deeper bench. UNICS will likely to try to wear Khimki down with aggressive defense, like it did vs. CSKA, holding the reigning champions to a season-worst 68 points.
Khimki: Moscow Region had a chance to win in the final seconds vs. Lokomotiv-Kuban, but Stefan Markovic’s shot missed the mark. Now Khimki wants to regain second place even though Alexey Shved’s return has been delayed and he will be out at least until March. Khimki, however, has some other wild cards. UNICS did a terrific job against CSKA inside, led by Raymar Morgan’s double-double. Khimki can answer with the dynamic frontcourt of Jordan Mickey and Malcolm Thomas (combined for 29 points and 12 rebounds vs. Loko). Kazan is also not very good at distributing the ball, ranking second-worst in the League at 16.2 assists per game. Khimki is second with 20.6 per game.
Time: 8:00 PM (8:00 MSK)
Place: Basket Hall, Krasnodar, Russia
TV: Match! Nash Sport, VTB-League.com
Lokomotiv-Kuban: Vlada Jovanovic stated that after his team’s defeats to CSKA and Villeurbanne, Kuban had something to prove to itself. Kuban’s super motivation was evident against Khimki, where Dmitry Kulagin enjoyed one of his best games of the season. The All-Star Game starter finished a few steps shy of a triple-double (17 points, eight rebounds, eight assists) and gave the game-winning assist to Dorell Wright. Against Nizhny Novgorod, expect an all-Russia duel in the backcourt: Fridzon, Kulagin and Khvostov vs. Strebkov and Baburin.
Nizhny Novgorod: The first meeting between these teams did not end well for Nizhny. Ivan Strebkov was the best player for Nizhny (14 points, eight assists). Loko’s leader in that contest, Isaiah Whitehead, has already left the club. At the moment, Nizhny Novgorod is one of the hottest teams in the League (seven wins in its last 10 games). The Volga cub has also been quite successful on the road (five wins), while Loko has already lost three times at home. Krasnodar will not be a huge favorite in this game.