Zalgiris Kaunas will put its five-game winning streak on the line as it welcomes Khimki Moscow Region and its dangerous offense on Friday. One of the most intriguing matchups in this clash will be in the paint between two players often featured on the highlight reels, starting centers Joffrey Lauvergne of Zalgiris and Devin Booker of Khimki.
The 29-year old Lauvergne is in his fifth EuroLeague season, having made his debut in 2012 with Elan Chalon-Sur-Saone from his native France before his career skyrocketed during a 2013-14 campaign with Partizan Belgrade when he averaged a career-best 11.1 points and led the EuroLeague with 8.6 rebounds per game. After four years in the NBA, Lauvergne spent the last two with Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul before joining Zalgiris this summer. Booker, also 29 years old, made his EuroLeague debut with FC Bayern Munich in 2018-19, and this is his second season with Khimki.
Even though last-place Khimki has been struggling this season, its offense has been clicking just fine, and Booker has been posting the best numbers of his EuroLeague career. Booker’s 12.8 points and 5.4 rebounds are both career highs, and so are his averages in PIR (14.4) and assists (1.8 apg.). He has missed five games this season, but enters this one in form, having averaged 15.7 points over the last three.
Lauvergne, who is coming off 16 points plus 7 rebounds last week, is also in a midst of a fine season himself, his best since the one with Partizan seven years ago. Lauvergne is averaging 10.3 points on a career-high 60.3% two-point shooting, which is just a slightly better accuracy than Booker’s. The Zalgiris center matches Booker’s 5.4 rebounds per game, but Lauvergne does have more total rebounds than Booker (86 to 65), mainly thanks to four more appearances this season.
When the two teams met in Round 2, Booker scored 14 points in a 70-84 loss. Khimki was severely depleted at the time, but it was also the only game this season that Lauvergne has missed. Otherwise, these two centers have gone head-to-head three times in the past two seasons, and have been highly efficient in those games, each shooting better than 76% from the two-point range.
Their first encounter was in the early going of the 2018-19 campaign. Lauvergne was in a Fenerbahce uniform, scoring 10 points in 11 minutes while making 5 of 6 two-point shots, helping his team to an 88-84 win over Bayern, for whom Booker collected 15 points on 7-for-8 field goal shooting along with 7 rebounds and 3 assists in 31 minutes.
Last season, as Booker moved to Khimki and Lauvergne was still with Fenerbahce, they went against each other twice. Lauvergne scored 7 points in 19 minutes against Booker’s 9 in 23 minutes as Fenerbahce beat Khimki 89-76. Later that season, just before the pandemic halted the competition in early March, Khimki beat Fenerbahce by 14 points on its home floor with Booker scoring 15 points in 24 minutes while Lauvergne scored 10 on 5-for-6 two-point shooting in 12 minutes.
This time, Lauvergne is set to have a much larger role, as he is averaging 20 minutes per contest, and he will try to maintain high efficiency he had in the previous meetings against his counterpart. But the last-place visitors will be highly motivated to turn their season to an upward path against one of the hottest EuroLeague teams, and Booker plans to have a big role in it.