Six regular-season games will be played on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
Saturday, January 12
Time: 3:00 PM (12:00 MSK)
Place: SC Velotrek, Astana, Kazakhstan
Astana: A week ago, Astana was on the verge of catching UNICS for 3rd place, but a defeat to Nizhny Novgorod dropped them to 5th. This is a huge game for the Kazakhs. Over the years, Astana has struggled vs. UNICS, winning only once in 12 attempts, but the club has also never enjoyed so much success early in the season. No one would be shocked if Emil Rajkovic can will his team to an upset.
UNICS: Kazan will still be favored, but the Tatars have some underlying concerns. UNICS has lost two of its four road games, mostly due to an anemic offense away from home. Kazan only averages 76.8 points per game on the road, third-worst in the League. The road woes have carried over to the EuroCup, where UNICS scored only 80 points in a loss to Andorra earlier this week.
Sunday, January 13
Time: 3:15 PM (3:15 MSK)
Place: Falcon Club, Minsk, Belarus
Tsmoki-Minsk: The Belarusian Dragons are stuck in 13th place, dropping three in a row after a win vs. VEF. Minsk was significantly better on offense vs. Avtodor, but defense decided the outcome, as Tsmoki’s mistakes derailed a comeback. The defense has given head coach Aliaksandr Krutsikau a major headache: Minsk is one of three teams giving up more than 90 points per game, but unlike Avtodor, his team only scores 81.
Kalev: Tallinn is barely outside of the top-eight and a win over Minsk would likely put the Estonians back in the playoff picture. The team has dealt with a challenging schedule over the past five games: defeating two rivals in Enisey and PARMA, while dropping three games to top-eight teams. Defense will likely be the key for Kalev vs. Tsmoki. Tallinn ranks first in the League in steals (8.7) and blocks (4.4). New signing Tony Wroten is also expected to make his VTB League debut.
Time: 5:00 PM (4:00 MSK)
Place: Kristall Sports Palace, Saratov, Russia
Avtodor: After the unexpected loss to VEF, Saratov won three of its next four games, the only defeat coming to Astana. Avtodor continues to have one of the best offenses in the League, averaging 89.2 points per game, behind only CSKA. On the other hand, Saratov’s defense is third-worst, allowing 91.3 per game. The win over Baken this week in the FIBA Europe Cup was a surprising aberration as Avtodor won 71-60.
PARMA: Perm started 2019 off on the wrong foot, losing by 29 to Zenit at home. Avtodor’s high-tempo offense could cause a lot of problems for PARMA’s defense. The Ural club, however, does know how to rebound, leading the League in total rebounds (37.0) and offensive rebounds (12.7). PARMA thrives on second-chance points and makes it difficult for opposing teams to run in transition after a missed shot.
Time: 5:00 PM (5:00 MSK)
Place: SIBUR Arena, St. Petersburg, Russia
TV: Match! Nash Sport, VTB-League.com
Zenit: Zenit snapped its three-game skid with a blowout win on the road vs. PARMA, helping Joan Plaza to his first VTB United League victory at the club. The game showed a taste of Plaza’s system: team-oriented offense that gives everyone a chance to score. Eight different players scored in double digits, while combining for 33 assists, the most recorded by any team in the League this season.
Nizhny Novgorod: The Volga club has noticeably improved in recent outings, winning three in a row to erase memories of the team’s horrific start. The streak is especially impressive considering the competition: Nizhny dealt Khimki its first loss of the season, defeated PARMA in a double-overtime thriller and handled red-hot Astana with ease. Nizhny Novgorod is back in the top-eight, but Kalev and Enisey are not far behind. Only one game behind Zenit in the standings, a win would allow Nizhny Novgorod to leapfrog St. Petersburg into the standings.
Time: 5:00 PM (6:00 MSK)
Place: Olimpic Sport Center, Riga, Latvia
VEF: Riga is stuck in last place with a 2-11 record, though their opponent on Sunday has also only won two games. For VEF, this home game is a huge opportunity to create momentum and potentially escape the cellar. As the only team in the League with double-digit losses, Riga can ill afford another setback, particularly at home against the Polish newcomers.
Zielona Gora: After a respectable 2-2 start to the season, Zielona Gora has lost six in a row. This game is just as important for the Poles as it is for the Latvian hosts. The match-up features the two lowest-scoring teams in the League and the only clubs averaging fewer than 80 points per game: 72.7 for Zielona Gora and 72.5 for VEF.
Monday, January 14
Time: 7:30 PM (7:30 MSK)
Place: USH CSKA, Moscow, Russia
TV: Match! Nash Sport, VTB-League.com
CSKA: This weekend is highlighted by the biggest rivalry in Russian basketball. CSKA and Khimki are ranked 1-2 in the League entering the game, with the Army Men still boasting a perfect record. One month ago, these two teams met in the EuroLeague as the Red and Blue cruised to a victory. It should be noted that virtually everyone was healthy for CSKA in that contest, whereas Khimki was missing Alexey Shved and Anthony Gill.
Khimki: Unlike CSKA, which has already won twice in the EuroLeague to open 2019, Khimki continues to struggle without Alexey Shved and Anthony Gill. Moscow Region was able to take down Fenerbahce in overtime, but lost two days later to another Turkish club, Anadolu Efes. Khimki faces a huge task vs. CSKA, especially with Shved unlikely to play. Khimki sorely misses the playmaker, as evidenced by the loss to Nizhny Novgorod, in which Moscow Region scored only 80 points against a very average defense.