Zenit, Monaco put winning streaks on the line
Zenit St Petersburg (12-6) hosts AS Monaco (9-11) at Sibur Arena on Thursday. Zenit is on a four-game winning streak and looks to keep its great momentum going, led by Jordan Loyd (13.4 ppg., 3.7 apg.), Mateusz Ponitka (4.8 ppg., 5.2 rpg.) and Billy Baron (10.8 ppg.). Monaco has won its last three games and beat LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne 75-100 earlier this week. Mike James (15.2 ppg.) leads the Monaco attack alongside Dwayne Bacon (12.5 ppg.) and Donatas Motiejunas (9.8 ppg.). Earlier this season, Zenit topped Monaco 74-85 behind 20 points from Loyd.
Marquee matchup: Zenit's Loyd vs. Monaco's James
Zenit St Petersburg reaches its Regular Season Round 22 showdown against AS Monaco without its two primary point guards, Shabazz Napier and Conner Frankamp. As such, Jordan Loyd should be its main ballhandler in this game. Loyd is a dangerous player due to his quick first step, ballhandling and quick release. He is averaging 13.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists this season. He must be ready for a big matchup against Mike James, who has been leading Monaco since he joined the team. James is averaging 15.2 points and is the competition's assist leader (6.1 apg.). His experience and unlimited shooting range are his main weapons in this great matchup.
Keys to victory: Zenit vs. Monaco
Zenit St Petersburg is without Conner Frankamp, who joined Shabazz Napier in the injury list. The Russian powerhouse signed playmaker Tyson Carter, but will likely lean on Mateusz Ponitka and Billy Baron to run the team and pay extra attention on defense against Mike James and Paris Lee. Arturas Gudaitis is also hurt, too, so Alex Poythress and Anton Pushkov should see extended playing time against Donatas Motiejunas. Zenit allows just 71.9 points on average and even less (71.1 ppg.) at home, so it may need that defensive mentality against a high-scoring Monaco squad.
In fact, Monaco is the second-best scoring team in the competition at 82.4 points per game and ranks third in fouls drawn (20.5 per game). It has also managed to commit just 11.7 turnovers per game and needs that level of focus against a top-class defensive squad like Zenit. On the other hand, Monaco allows a EuroLeague-high 82.4 points per game. Opponents make 55.0% of their two-pointers and shoot 36.7% from beyond the arc against Monaco. The game rhythm should be one of the biggest keys to this game, as Zenit excels in halfcourt offense and Monaco thrives in transition.