Zalgiris Kaunas heads into the 2022-23 season hoping to be more competitive than last time around, when it finished at the bottom of the regular season standings. A return to the top eight will need a big improvement, and here are five games to look out for along the way.
2022-23 Games to Watch: Zalgiris Kaunas
Round 1: Evans faces his ex
There is a long and rich rivalry between Zalgiris and Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv, highlighted by the famous 2004 Top 16 finale in which Derrick Sharp’s buzzer-beating triple sent Maccabi to the Final Four at Zalgiris’s expense. Maccabi has controlled the series more recently with four straight wins versus Zalgiris. The two teams essentially traded starters in the offseason, with center Josh Nebo heading from Kaunas to Tel Aviv and combo-guard Keenan Evans going the reverse route. That adds more spice to the opening night drama.
Round 3: Rematch of 1999 title game
The greatest moment in Zalgiris history came on 22nd April 1999, when the team was crowned continental champion for the first – and to date only – time by overcoming Virtus (then Kinder) Bologna at the Final Four in Munich. Inspired by playmaker and Final Four MVP Tyus Edney, with big contributions from the likes of Anthony Bowie, Saulius Stombergas and Jiri Zidek, Zalgiris took the title with an 82-74 victory in the championship game – which is sure to be fondly recalled when the teams rematch in Kaunas this season.
Round 4: Beating Saras again?
The 2021-22 season was a disappointing one for Zalgiris, which finished at the bottom of the standings with an 8-20 record. But there were some highlights and an especially memorable occasion came in Round 29 with a thrilling 91-84 home victory over FC Barcelona. Edgaras Ulanovas (16 points, 9 rebounds, 6 steals) and Lukas Lekavicius (22 points) shined to overcome former Zalgiris coach Sarunas Jasikevicius, and the victory was even sweeter for local fans because the game took place on 11th March, a national holiday to celebrate Lithuanian independence. Zalgiris will hope for the same outcome this time around.
Round 9: Birutis looking for a fresh start
The first signing of the summer for Zalgiris was the re-recruitment of Laurynas Birutis, who rejoined the club from Monbus Obradoiro. The center’s first spell with the club came in 2018-19 when he made his EuroLeague debut in the opening round against Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz and delivered a solid performance with 7 points on 3-of-3 shooting. Four years on, Birutis returns to the competition with more experience and aiming to make a bigger impression, and the re-enactment of his debut against Baskonia will be a good measure of the progress he has made.
Round 13: Happy memories for Maksvytis
Zalgiris’s meeting with Crvena Zvezda might not be an obvious stand-out on the calendar, but for head coach Kazys Maksvytis, facing the Serbian team will always be special. Back in 2014-15, Maksvytis was in charge of Neptunas Klaipeda for his first season as a head coach in the competition. Round 2 delivered the team’s first win of the season, and therefore the first victory as a EuroLeague head coach for Maksvytis, with an exciting 83-81 triumph over Zvezda, thanks to a game-winning basket with 9 seconds remaining by Valdas Vasylius.