Required viewing: April 1-2 31  march  2018

VTB United League
Six regular season games will be played on Sunday and Monday.
Sunday, April 1

PARMA Russia – Enisey Russia

Time: 5:00 PM (3:00 MSK)
Place: Molot Sports Palace, Perm, Russia

PARMA: Perm isn’t very consistent, losing back-to-back games vs. playoff rivals, then taking down 7th-place Astana. The jury is still out on this team, but vs. the Kazakhs, the players were unselfish and moved the ball, putting less pressure on star Codi Miller-McIntyre to win the game on his own. Ultimately, the starters and bench players each scored 42 points in the victory.

Enisey: Krasnoyarsk is in much worse shape. The Siberians cannot afford another loss to a team outside of the top five and must beat PARMA, Astana and Nizhny Novgorod over the next three games to keep its postseason hopes alive. With only one road win this season (vs. Tsmoki in January) and shaky defense away from home (92.6 ppg allowed), the visitors have a tough road ahead.

Lokomotiv-Kuban Russia – Astana Kazakhstan

Time: 3:30 PM (3:30 MSK)
Place: Basket Hall, Krasnodar, Russia

Lokomotiv-Kuban: It’s hard to believe, given the sensational winning streak between October and January, but the Railwaymen have not won in the League since taking down Enisey on January 28. Since then, Loko has lost to Avtodor at home, both CSKA and UNICS, plus Tsmoki on the road. Luckily for the fans, the team’s play in the EuroCup has not been affected as Loko recently advanced to the championship round by sweeping Reggio Emilia in the semifinals. Darussafaka is up next, coached by former Russian national team boss David Blatt. Lokomotiv has an excellent chance of celebrating the five-year anniversary of its first EuroCup title with a second trophy and a berth in the EuroLeague.

Astana: After upset wins vs. Zenit and Khimki that vaulted the team into 7th, Astana has slipped in the standings, falling to Nizhny Novgorod on a heartbreaking buzzer-beater and losing at home to PARMA. The Kazakh team was completely dominated on the glass vs. PARMA (Perm forward Yannick Moreira collected 17 rebounds by himself) and it gets even harder vs. Loko. The Railwaymen boast one of the League’s most unique frontcourt duos in Elegar and Qvale, capable of exploiting any weakness in the paint.

Khimki Russia – Kalev Estonia

Time: 4:00 PM (4:00 MSK)
Place: BCMO, Khimki, Russia

Khimki: Thanks to its superior talent and reputation, Moscow Region would seem to be the clear favorite. But it’s not that easy. Even if you ignore Kalev’s stunning upset in the first meeting between these teams, Khimki is reeling from injuries and the physical exhaustion of balancing VTB League and EuroLeague schedules. This will be Khimki’s fifth game in 10 days (a big number even by NBA standards), while James Anderson and Tyler Honeycutt remain out with injuries. Both of these factors were visible in the recent loss to Fenerbahce, where a worn-down Khimki scraped and clawed for the three quarters, before the offense collapsed in the 4th quarter, leading to a nine-point defeat.

Kalev: The Estonians are one of the League’s worst road teams, giving up a ridiculous 95.3 ppg away from home. They do have a few reasons for optimism, however, including the win earlier this season vs. the Yellow-Blues, the first in club history. Khimki has been upset several times since and could be vulnerable again on Sunday. Kalev’s biggest strength is its ability to push the tempo and potentially wear down an exhausted opponent. As long as they can contain Alexey Shved–easier said than done–they may have a chance.

VEF Latvia – Nizhny Novgorod Russia

Time: 5:00 PM (5:00 MSK)
Place: Olimpic Sport Center, Riga, Latvia

VEF: The Latvians need to protect their home court at all costs. The team has already played 18 games, more than PARMA and Nizhny Novgorod, leaving them little margin for error. On offense, Alex Perez has been the only reliable option in recent games, making VEF overly dependent on the American playmaker. Trying to outgun Stevan “49-Point” Jelovac is a losing strategy regardless — VEF needs to share the ball and dominate the glass, an area in which the team excels.

Nizhny Novgorod: Komolov’s miracle buzzer-beater vs. Astana gave Nizhny some much-needed momentum as Zoran Lukic’s club went on to defeat Tsmoki-Minsk and rise to 7th in the standings. Though the backcourt duo of Jelovac and Odum attracts much of the attention, Nizhny’s improved defense has been a big reason for the team’s success. The Volga club has only allowed 82, 78 and 70 points in its last three outings. Given VEF is 11th in the League in points scored (76.1 per game), Nizhny may find success with the defensive approach employed vs. Tsmoki-Minsk a week earlier.

Zenit Russia – Avtodor Russia

Time: 6:00 PM (6:00 MSK)
Place: Yubileyny Sports Palace, St. Petersburg, Russia

Zenit: Sparks are guaranteed to fly when these two high-octane offenses clash. Zenit and Avtodor combined for 199 points in the first meeting of the season. Expect more of the same on Sunday evening. St. Petersburg hasn’t played in more than a week since being eliminated from the EuroCup and will be looking to take out its frustration on visiting Saratov.

Avtodor: Avtodor has also had time to rest. Fatigue should not be a factor for either team. This is a big game for Evgeny Pashutin’s men. After losing three of the last five, and barely escaping in the two wins, Avtodor needs a victory to keep its hopes of a top-five finish alive. The defense has been suspect, giving up 110 points to CSKA and 95 points to Kalev, an alarming sign given Zenit’s reputation on offense.

Monday, April 2

CSKA Russia – UNICS Russia

Time: 7:30 PM (7:30 MSK)
Place: USH CSKA, Moscow, Russia
TV: Match! Nash Sport,

CSKA: For most of the winter, it looked like Loko was the primary threat to CSKA’s throne. But when Krasnodar went into a tailspin, UNICS took advantage and now has a chance to virtually lock up the top seed with a win over CSKA on Monday. The Army Men will try to stop them. Dimitris Itoudis’ men are playing their best basketball of the season, clinching 1st place in the EuroLeague regular season, while winning seven straight in the VTB League. This is an excellent chance for Moscow to flex its muscles and regain the top spot in the VTB League.

UNICS: Kazan also played a EuroLeague team this week, taking down Khimki in a hard-fought 83-80 victory. Dimitris Priftis said after the game that his team did everything it could to lose after squandering a double-digit lead in the 4th quarter. Expect the Tatar club to be more focused on Monday, especially if they can pick up a lead in the second half. CSKA poses a bigger threat than Khimki, but the Army Men, much like the Yellow-Blues, are playing on short rest with a meager three days between Friday’s showdown with Zalgiris and Monday’s top-two clash in Moscow.

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