Required Viewing: April 20-21

Required Viewing: April 20-21

Avtodor plays UNICS, Zenit hosts Lokomotiv-Kuban and other games.

Saturday, April 20

Kalev Estonia – Nizhny Novgorod Russia

Time: 5:00 PM (5:00 MSK)
Place: Saku Suurhall, Tallinn, Estonia

Kalev: Both the Estonians and Nizhny Novgorod have already clinched playoff berths. But there’s still plenty to play for. By winning three of its last four, Kalev remains in contention for 7th place, which is currently occupied by Nizhny. The Estonians also hold the tiebreaker vs. the Russians, thanks to beating the Volga club earlier in the season, which means if these teams finish with identical records, Kalev will take 7th. 

Nizhny Novgorod: A rash of injuries and a difficult schedule down the stretch mean that Nizhny could drop out of 7th place. But despite missing multiple starters, Zoran Lukic’s men remain extremely competitive. That was the case against both CSKA and Khimki, the latter of which barely escaped Nizhny Novgorod in overtime. Breakout star Georgy Zhbanov once again carried the team vs. Khikmi, missing a triple-double by two assists (12 + 10 + 8). The backcourt injuries continue piling up for the Russians, however, and it’s going to be tough to contain Tony Wroten, who erupted for 31 points, eight rebounds and eight assists vs. Zenit. Making matters worse, Nizhny recently announced that Zhbanov will not be available on Saturday. 

Sunday, April 21

Astana Kazakhstan – Enisey Russia

Time: 3:00 PM (12:00 MSK)
Place: SC Velotrek, Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan

Astana: The Kazakhs lost at home for the first time since January 12 last weekend, falling to Lokomotiv-Kuban. Of course, Emil Rajkovic’s men want to make up for it on Sunday and take care of business vs. Enisey. This game is also important because of playoff seeding. Zenit failed to capitalize on Astana’s loss, which means the Kazakhs remain in 5th place despite identical records. Beating Enisey would increase Astana’s chances of a top-five finish significantly, though everything will ultimately be decided next week in the regular-season finale with St. Petersburg. 

Enisey: Krasnoyarsk was eliminated from postseason contention by Kalev’s win over Zenit. But they could still impact the playoff race indirectly. In addition to Astana, Oleg Okulov’s men play Khimki, which has a slim chance of taking 2nd place. Only the final game vs. Avtodor will be largely meaningless. Astana, which recently had top-three aspirations, does not look like a heavy favorite. Krasnoyarsk has won three in a row and defeated the Kazakhs in the first meeting of the season. Enisey scored 93 points in that game, which had been the most points allowed by Astana to that point. 

Avtodor Russia – UNICS Russia

Time: 5:00 PM (4:00 MSK)
Place: Kristall Sports Palace, Saratov, Russia

Avtodor: Evgeny Pashutin meets his former team for the first time this season. Avtodor was still coached by Sergei Mokin in the first meeting, losing by an uncharacteristic score of 76-63. Since taking over, Pashutin’s men have only scored less than 70 points once, so Sunday’s game should be different. On the other hand, Kazan remains the best defensive team in the League, allowing only 74 points per game. 

UNICS: UNICS and Avtodor have opposite records over the last five games: Kazan is 4-1, whereas Avtodor is in a 1-4 slump. But UNICS’s lone defeat proved costly. Kazan’s pursuit of the regular-season title ended in dramatic, shocking fashion with a loss at home to 13th-place PARMA. Despite missing out on 1st place, Dimitris Priftis and co. still need to win to avoid dropping to 3rd behind Khimki. UNICS has a more difficult schedule than Khimki down the stretch. Though both teams are facing non-playoff teams, Moscow Region will be at home twice, whereas Kazan travels to Saratov and Poland. 

Zenit Russia – Lokomotiv-Kuban Russia

Time: 5:00 PM (5:00 MSK)
Place: SIBUR Arena, St. Petersburg, Russia
TV: Match TV

Zenit: Two rivals meet in a game that until recently promised to decide who would finish in 4th place. Zenit, however, has bigger problems at the moment. April has been mostly a disaster as the northerners have dropped three straight to fall into 6th place. Making matters worse, Jalen Reynolds will be unable to play vs. Loko due to a suspension. The game vs. Kalev showed how important he is to Zenit. Arnett Moultrie and Tony Wroten had their way in the paint for Kalev, helping the Estonians score 58 points down low. Nonetheless, Zenit needs to find a way to win on Sunday to improve its odds ahead of the regular-season finale with Astana. 

Lokomotiv-Kuban: The Railwaymen are close to clinching 4th place. Though Krasnodar can no longer finish in 3rd place, due to Khimki enjoying the tiebreaker, Kuban needs to win this game to assure itself of home-court advantage in the first round. Lokomotiv will almost certainly try to exploit Reynolds’ absence. St. Petersburg and Krasnodar rank in the top-three in the League in rebounding, but without the American center in the picture, Loko’s Moustapha Fall will have a much easier time controlling the glass and Dmitry Kulagin will be much more dangerous driving the lane. 

Zielona Gora Poland – Tsmoki-Minsk Belarus

Time: 5:00 PM (6:00 MSK)
Place: CRS Hala Zielona Gora, Zielona Gora, Poland

Zielona Gora: The Polish club’s primary motivation is to win as many games as possible in its debut season. Igor Jovovic’s men have a tough finale vs. UNICS, which may still be playing for 2nd place, but the home game vs. Tsmoki is very winnable. The first meeting with the Belarusians was Zielona Gora’s VTB United League debut and the Poles came out on top, led by Boris Savovic (18 points, seven rebounds) who is now playing for Avtodor. 

Tsmoki-Minsk: After PARMA’s sensational win over UNICS, Minsk is almost certain to finish in last place, especially with three games on the road to close the season. Tsmoki is the only team in the League with only one road win. In addition to Zielona Gora, the Belarusians face Nizhny Novgorod, which will likely need a win to finish in 7th place and avoid a match-up with CSKA in the first round of the playoffs.