BC Khimki Moscow Region bids farewell to the 2010-11 Turkish Airlines Euroleague season on Thursday in a game against Zalgiris Kaunas that has great interest for both teams.
Khimki comes off a defeat at Maccabi Electra that dropped the team to 3-6 and out of the race for the Top 16. Since then the team has parted ways with distinguished head coach Sergio Scariolo with assistant Oleg Meleshchenko stepping into his shows for now. The team has also injected new blood with the signing of veteran Travis Hansen, who will look to pick up a win in what will be his only Euroleague game of the season. Meanwhile Zalgiris, 5-4, needs to win to lock up second place in the group and a No. 2 seed for the upcoming Top 16 draw. A loss coupled with other results could see Zalgiris drop as far back as fourth place, something new head coach Rimantas Grigas, in just his second game with the team, will try to avoid. Zalgiris pulled away in the fourth quarter to beat Khimki 73-65 when they met last month Dainius Salenga led a well-balanced Zalgiris attack with 11 points. On paper these teams match up very well with depth and talent all over the floor. Khimki is four-deep inside with old school centers in Ben Eze and Aleksey Savrasenko plus Kresimir Loncar and the versatile Sergey Monya at power forward. Zalgiris features the Euroleague’s shot-blocking leader Mirza Begic, rebounding leader Paulius Jankunas and a former rebounding king in Travis Watson in addition to Tadas Kilmavicius inside. Hansen joins the league’s co-leading scorer Keith Langford and sniper Thomas Kelati as lethal scoring threats in addition to combo guard Vitaly Fridzon, who usually starts at shooting guard. Zoran Planinic and Raul Lopez split time at point guard. Grigas has multiple options on the perimeter with DeJuan Collins and Mantas Kalnietis as point guards, Tomas Delininkaitis and Marty Pocius at shooting guard and Dainius Salenga and Arturas Milaknis at small forward, though all can play multiple positions and allow for different offensive and defensive looks. Conventional wisdom might make Zalgiris – having the better record and more to play for – the favorite, but with a new coach and new player in the lineup and playing at home, expect Khimki to leave all it has on the floor as it targets a final win in front of its fans to leave the Euroleague with a good feeling.
REFEREES: Christos Christodoulou, Srdan Dozai, Tolga Sahin
Game notes, BC Khimki Moscow Region
Keith Langford is tied with Cibona swingman Bojan Popovic as the top scorers in the Euroleague this season with 16.9 points per game.
Langford leads the Euroleague with an average of 6.9 fouls drawn per game.
Ben Eze will play in the 100th game of his Euroleague Basketball career this week.
Eze moved into sole possession of seventh place on the Euroleague Basketball list of shots blocked in a career last week. He now has 101 blocks and is 5 behind Gregor Fucka for sixth place.
Vitaly Fridzon has made 12 consecutive free throws in Euroleague action.
Raul Lopez is averaging a career-best 51.5% accuracy on three-point shots this season. Lopez is ranked sixth in the league in three-point percentage and has attempted more threes than any other player in the top 10.
Interim head coach Oleg Meleshchenko will make his Euroleague coaching debut this week.
Travis Hansen could make his season debut with Khimki after signing last week.
Game notes, Zalgiris Kaunas
Tomas Delininkaitis has made 10 consecutive free throws in Euroleague action.
Paulius Jankunas has made 10 consecutive free throws in Euroleague action.
Jankunas played for BC Khimki Moscow Region last season.
Jankunas leads the Euroleague in rebounding with 7.4 per game this season.
Jankunas ranks last among qualified three-point shooters in the Euroleaue this season having made just 2 of 17 attempts (11.8%).
Marcus Brown played alongside Khimki players Sergey Monya and Andrey Savrasenko at CSKA Moscow between 2003 and 2005. They helped the team win back-to-back Russian championships and two Euroleague Final Fours.
Mirza Begic has blocked at least 1 shot in each of his last 16 Euroleague games. Begic leads the Euroleague with 2.3 blocks per game.
Zalgiris has committed more turnovers (18.7 per game) than any team in the Euroleague this season.
Marcus Brown has made the last 10 free throws he has attempted in Euroleague action.
Oleg Meleshcenko, BC Khimki head coach:
— First of all, we would like to thank Sergio Scariolo for his serious work during 2 years in BC Khimki. The match with Zalgiris will be the last in Euroleague for our team. But it doesn’t mean that this game is not important for us. Quite the contrary we should show our character and good basketball for fans to enjoy. We will do our best to win this game.
Zoran Planinic, BC Khimki guard:
— We are going to play this game as hard as we can and try to win. It will be a good gift for a Christmas. Positive feelings and positive things are important: it’s time to turn the page and try to improve ourselves in the next year. For our opponent the game is very important from the point of view of final standings so surely they are coming here ready to play. For us it’s a chance to gain revenge for two offensive losses in October and November. Moreover, the victory is very important from the mentally point.
Rimantas Grigas, Zalgiris head coach:
— We aren’t relaxed before this game. Yes, we know that we have qualified for the Top 16 and Khimki has no chances to make it, but this game is anyway important because of two reasons. First of all, its Euroleague and you always want to win the game in the competition of such highest level. Also if we win we secure second position in this group and it might help our chances in the Top 16 draw. We are preparing for this game with normal intensity and our main goal is to stop Khimki’s transition game, which they execute really often. They have leaders in the team and we have to pay big attention to stopping them. Now with Thomas Kelati back, their roster even extended.
Paulius Jankunas, Zalgiris forward:
— I’m quite surprised that with one week left in regular season Khimki is already eliminated from the next round. They have really strong roster and we always considered them as favorites of our group. However this doesn’t mean that Khimki will not fight for the victory. Every team wants to finish the year with the win. For us it would give better confidence going into next round and we want to meet Christmas in a good mood. In the game we have to be aware of Khimki’s transition, we have to pass the ball carefully and to take only good shots.