Week 25 In Review: UNICS Chasing 1st Place, Loko Pays Back Astana

Week 25 In Review: UNICS Chasing 1st Place, Loko Pays Back Astana

With two weeks left in the regular season, UNICS continues to chase 1st place, Enisey could still make the playoffs, Loko fends off Astana to take hold of 4th place and Nizhny has a new star in 21-year-old Georgy Zhbanov.

CSKA plays its final regular-season game, but hasn’t clinched 1st place

The Army Men were the first to wrap up play in the regular season, defeating Astana at home, 91-72. Kyle Hines’ 3-pointer was among the highlights from the win. The American center has only hit two triples in six seasons in the League. 

With two weeks left in the regular season, CSKA has already finished with a 22-4 record. For the first time since the 2012-13 season, Moscow won less than 85% of its games and might miss out on 1st place. Everything depends on UNICS. By winning its final three games, Kazan can clinch the regular-season title and bump CSKA to 2nd. 

UNICS one step closer to winning the regular season

Kazan won a huge game on Sunday, defeating Zenit at home. Dimitris Priftis’ men started the game in impressive fashion, securing a 17-point first-half lead. 

After halftime, Zenit tightened up the defense and made it close entering the 4th quarter. 

With a minute remaining, UNICS led by only a point, but held on to win, 74-72. 

“We were a little scared in the first half. During the break, I told the players there’s no reason to be afraid. Yes, we might lose, but we need to go out and enjoy the game. You might make mistakes, miss shots, but simply let go of the fear and play. Be yourself. We were able to do that,” Joan Plaza was okay with his team even after the loss.

Zenit was UNICS’s toughest opponent remaining on the schedule. In order to clinch 1st place, Kazan now needs to beat PARMA, Avtodor and Zielona Gora.

Nizhny Novgorod secures postseason berth

Throughout the season, Nizhny Novgorod battled through injuries. The spring has been no different. First, Ivan Strebkov had to undergo an operation. Now Kendrick Perry, the team leader in points and assists, is out for the rest of the season. 

Nizhny only brought 10 players to the game vs. Avtodor. But Zoran Lukic found someone to step up. 21-year-old Georgy Zhbanov earned the start, pulling off this steal and fast-break dunk in the opening minutes:

The Russian guard was everywhere on the court, finishing with 10 points, nine assists, six rebounds and three steals. Evgeny Baburin, meanwhile, hit five 3-pointers to lead all scorers with 21 points. Nizhny Novgorod overcame adversity again to win in Saratov and guarantee a spot in the playoffs.

Avtodor is in trouble. In order to finish in 8th place, Evgeny Pashutin’s men need to beat UNICS and Enisey and hope that Kalev loses to Zenit, Nizhny Novgorod and Lokomotiv-Kuban. 

Loko tightens grip on 4th place

In the final game of the week, Lokomotiv-Kuban dealt Astana its first loss at home in four months. Bob Donewald’s team dominated late in the first half and led by as much as 14 in the contest. 

But Krasnodar could not relax. Astana has earned a reputation for comebacks and quickly cut the deficit to two possessions entering the 4th quarter. 

But Loko held firm. Astana only scored two points in the final four minutes. Krasnodar was led by Dorell Wright and Mateusz Ponitka in the tough road win. Wright shot 7-9 from beyond the arc, while Ponitka scored 23 points on 9-11 shooting. 

Lokomotiv is unlikely to catch 3rd-place Khimki, but has no plans to give up 4th place. The lead over Zenit is now two games with three remaining. Astana, meanwhile, risks being caught by Nizhny Novgorod and dropping to 7th place. 

Khimki in 3rd place?

Khimki is close to finding out its playoff seed. Rimas Kurtinaitis’ men will have a tough time catching UNICS. They need Kazan to lose the rest of its games. The Yellow and Blue also have a sizable lead on Loko and can only drop to 4th in the event of three more losses and a perfect finish from Krasnodar. 

Last week, Khimki traveled to Minsk, where they scored a season-high 108 points. Khimki put on showtime for the Belarusian fans, soaring for dunks, blocking shots and dishing out pretty assists. 

Enisey stays alive

After a winter slump, Krasnoyarsk is unexpectedly back in the playoff chase. A comeback win in Riga kept the Russian club’s hopes alive: D’Angelo Harrison delivered a win at the free-throw line, 70-68. 

Now Enisey has won three in a row and jumped Avtodor for 9th place. Both Krasnoyarsk and Saratov are in similar situations. In order to make the postseason, they need to win out and hope Kalev goes 0-3. 

Kalev picks up its biggest win of the season in front of 5,600 fans in Perm

With each win, the Estonians’ chances of making the VTB League playoffs for the first time ever continue to increase. Kalev showed no mercy to PARMA, crushing the Russians, 105-75. 5,611 fans showed up to the game in Perm, the second biggest crowd of the season. 

Arnett Moultrie was once again the star for Kalev: 22 points, seven rebounds, four steals. This is the 8th-straight game in which the big man has scored at least 20 points.

Kalev is one win from the playoffs. The schedule, however, is not easy with three home games remaining vs. Zenit, Nizhny Novgorod and Lokomotiv. 

VEF wins, but can no longer make playoffs

Tsmoki led by 14 points in Riga and was eager to escape last place at PARMA’s expense. Instead, VEF roared back for its 9th win of the season. The team, however, has been eliminated from postseason contention, thanks to Kalev’s win this weekend. VEF only has one game left, playing Lokomotiv-Kuban on the final day of the season.

Tsmoki still has a shot at moving up in the standings. The biggest game left will be in Poland. With a win over Zielona Gora, the Dragons could take over 13th place. 

Kurbanov in Toronto, Fridzon with Golden State

What if NBA clubs decided to sign VTB League stars? After exhaustive analysis, it turns out Nikita Kurbanov would be an ideal fit as the new Raptors’ star following Kawhi Leonard’s departure, Vitaly Fridzon could be the latest Splash Bro for the Warriors, and Alexey Shved would likely continue his career with the Thunder. 

Team of the week

Mateusz Ponitka and Dorell Wright combined for 53 points and helped Loko stop Astana in the Kazakh capital.
Georgy Zhbanov successfully replaced Kendrick Perry as Nizhny’s point guard vs. Avtodor: 10 points, nine assists, six rebounds and a team-high efficiency rating. 
Maurice Ndour was one of the stars in Kazan’s win over Zenit. The forward finished with a double-double: 14 points, 10 rebounds. 
Nikita Kurbanov helped CSKA finish the regular season in style with a win over Astana. 


Khimki has practically clinched a top-three finish, Nizhny is in the playoffs and Enisey bumps Avtodor from 9th place.