Six regular-season games are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.
Saturday, January 5
Time: 3:30 PM (3:30 MSK)
Place: Falcon Club, Minsk, Belarus
Tsmoki-Minsk: The Dragons only have two wins this season, but one came against Avtodor. However, one of the stars of that success–Stefan Moody–is no longer on the team. The Belarusian offense took a hit with his departure, with Dragons only managing to score 69 points against UNICS in their most recent outing.
Avtodor: Saratov has only won this season when scoring more than 90 points. In the loss to Tsmoki, however, defense was the culprit as the Russians scored 95, but gave up 99. Avtodor will likely try to put pressure on the home team in the paint. The strategy worked for UNICS, which collected 23 offensive rebounds in the recent win over Tsmoki.
Sunday, January 6
Time: 1:00 PM (1:00 MSK)
Place: USH CSKA, Moscow, Russia
CSKA: The Army Men remain undefeated this season and expect to extend their winning streak as they take on last-place VEF. These two teams met a few weeks ago as the Army Men cruised to a 27-point win in Riga.
VEF: According to Janis Gailitis, in the first game vs. CSKA, VEF displayed respectable offense, scoring 80 points against one of the strongest defensive teams in Europe. But Riga will have a tough time matching that feat in Moscow as the Latvians average a League-worst 70.7 points when playing on the road.
Time: 2:00 PM (2:00 MSK)
Place: Basket Hall, Krasnodar, Russia
TV: Match! Nash Sport, VTB-League.com
Lokomotiv-Kuban: Krasnodar is starting to find its stride after a slow start to the season, winning four of its last five games. Zielona Gora, meanwhile, has lost five in a row. But the first meeting between these teams showed that the Poles are no pushovers. Krasnodar barely escaped on the road, leading by only three points with a minute to go in the contest.
Zielona Gora: Lokomotiv will be favored on Sunday, but Zielona Gora will try to take advantage of Krasnodar’s fatigue after a energy-sapping two-point loss in the EuroCup to Villeurbanne on Wednesday. The Railwaymen only have three days to recover, so expect the visitors to try to impose a physical, grinding style of play with no free space to maneuver.
Time: 5:30 PM (3:30 MSK)
Place: Molot Sports Palace, Perm, Russia
PARMA: Despite sitting in 11th place, PARMA is only one game back of 8th place and the final playoff spot. And, if not for the demoralizing double-overtime defeat in Nizhny Novgorod, the Ural club would already be in position for a postseason bid. Zenit will likely be favored by a few points, but St. Petersburg has been lackluster on the road this season (1-4), giving the Perm fans reason for optimism.
Zenit: Joan Plaza debuted as head coach with showdowns vs. Khimki in the United League and UNICS in the EuroCup Top 16. St. Petersburg lost both contests, but after getting demolished by Khimki, Zenit was vastly improved on defense in Plaza’s second outing and lost by only a point. Poor free-throw shooting was one of the reasons for Zenit’s defeat, which is surprising, considering the club ranks second in the United League at 81.2%.
Time: 4:00 PM (4:00 MSK)
Place: Basket Hall, Kazan, Russia
TV: Match! Nash Sport, VTB-League.com
UNICS: Kazan is undefeated at home this season, the only other team alongside CSKA to do so. But Dimitris Priftis has some concerns with his team’s play, stating after the win over Zenit: “We can’t play any worse on offense than we did in this game.” UNICS is not even ranked in the top eight in the League in points per game, trailing even Enisey, despite ranking much higher in the standings.
Enisey: Though Krasnoyarsk can score the ball, these two teams could not be more different on defense. Enisey gives up a League-worst 99 points per game on the road and have only won once away from home. The head-to-head record between these teams is also not encouraging. Enisey has won twice in 11 tries, with the last victory coming in January 2017.
Time: 5:00 PM (5:00 MSK)
Place: Meshchersky FOK, Nizhny Novgorod, Russia
Nizhny Novgorod: Nizhny is on the rise, winning three of its last five games to move into a tie with Avtodor for 8th place and the final playoff spot. The Russian club doesn’t plan on stopping, either. Nizhny was the last team to defeat red-hot Astana and would love to begin 2019 with another victory, especially since the club’s schedule in January and February will be brutal with Zoran Lukic calling it an “inhuman chase.”
Astana: Since the setback to Nizhny Novgorod, Astana has ripped off four straight wins and has a legitimate shot at cracking the League’s top 3 with a few more victories. Emil Rajkovic has built a fearsome offense on the Kazakh steppes with the team scoring 90+ vs. Loko and VEF and 100+ vs. Avtodor and Kalev. The team’s winning streak is even more impressive when you consider that Loko, Avtodor and Kalev are all playoff teams at the moment. Astana has the third-ranked offense in the League overall (87.9 points per game), trailing only CSKA and Avtodor.