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NBA Saturday: Will Kobe Bryant Return to Form?

Will Kobe Bryant return to superstar form and carry the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2014-15 season? He’s confident he will. … A closer look at the NBA players competing in the FIBA World Cup.

Alex Kennedy

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Will Kobe Bryant Return to Form?

“You can always just be average or do what’s normal. I’m not in this to do what’s normal. It’s a decision you’ve got to make if you want to accomplish anything that’s significant and have a serious impact. You’ve got to make those sacrifices. You have to make that choice. I made that choice a long time ago.” – Kobe Bryant

That’s what Bryant says in the trailer for his new documentary, which is titled “Kobe Bryant’s Muse.” The short trailer shows Bryant going through a rigorous workout and he’s clearly determined to bounce back in the 2014-15 NBA season.

A torn Achilles prematurely ended Bryant’s 2012-13 campaign and then a fractured left kneecap ended his comeback after just six games in the 2013-14 season, so it’s been awhile since we’ve seen The Black Mamba in elite form.

KobeBryantInsideImage1He’s hoping to change that soon. Bryant has spent this offseason training hard, determined to silence his critics who say that he has nothing left in the tank. At 36 years old, Bryant knows that his career is winding down and that he only has a few more years of basketball left in him, but he’s optimistic that he can return to form and still be one of the league’s stars before he walks away from the sport for good.

Bryant has two years remaining on his contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, and he intends to dominate every time he steps on the court during those two seasons. That’s the only way Bryant knows how to approach the game that he loves.

“I’m going to max [my last two years] out too, to do whatever I can,” Bryant said in an in-depth interview with Sports Illustrated. “Leave no stone unturned, no water left in the sponge.”

Bryant acknowledges that he has certain physical limitations at this point in his career, but he doesn’t believe those will affect his overall productivity.

“There are certain things that my body can’t do that I used to be able to do, and you have to be able to deal with those,” Bryant said. “First, you have to be able to figure out what those are. Last year when I came back, I was trying to figure out what changed. And that’s a very hard conversation to have.

“So when I hear the pundits and people talk, saying, ‘Well, he won’t be what he was.’ Know what? You’re right! I won’t be. But just because something evolves, it doesn’t make it any less better than it was before. I’ll be sharper. Much sharper. Much more efficient in areas. I’ll be limited in terms of what you see me do, versus a couple years ago. But very, very methodical, very, very purposeful.”

In an effort to further evolve his game and make up for those physical limitations, Bryant has been studying fellow 36-year-old Paul Pierce and is focused on being “more efficient” going forward.

Many people don’t realize the hard work that Bryant puts in during the summer and the season in order to stay on top of his game. He is one of the hardest working players in the NBA. His all-night workouts are legendary and there’s nothing scarier than a motivated Kobe.

Right now, it’s safe to say that Bryant is hungry, after suffering two serious injuries and watching the Lakers finish last season with a franchise-worst record of 27-55. As if he didn’t have enough fuel in his fire, ESPN recently released a list of the top shooting guards in the NBA and Bryant didn’t even make the top 10. Instead, he was listed as an honorable mention, alongside two-guards like Danny Green, Wes Matthews and J.R. Smith.

Meanwhile, Bryant just continues to work and prepare for the season.

“It’s the journey,” Bryant said. “These are the difficult times. I think it’s important to show that. Because it’s very easy for the public to look in October and November and say, ‘Oh, Kobe’s back to the way he was.’ Kids look at that and say, ‘It was just voilà!’  No, it wasn’t just voilà. It wasn’t.

“It was a lot of self-doubt and self-conversations and coming up with a plan, a strategy, trying to find the best people in their fields, nutrition and training and bringing them in and coming up with a plan and working at it day by day. It’s the journey. The journey excites me. I like doing the work. This is my passion. Love doing it. It’s not a job to me. And that’s 90 percent of it.”

Ask any of Bryant’s opponents and they believe he’s going to be back in superstar form in the 2014-15 season. They know better than to bet against Bryant. Tony Allen and James Harden believe that Bryant will be back with a vengeance and ready to put the Lakers on his shoulders, as he has done so many times in the past.

“Even 75 percent Kobe, you got to be wary of,” Allen told SI. “I’m not playing him any different. … He’s the closest thing to Michael Jordan in my era. His game is limitless. Not just a slasher or a shooter. He’s gonna get his. There’s no saying, ‘You’re going to stop Kobe.’ You got to not get discouraged.”

“I want to know what he’s going to come back like; I know he’s been working,” Harden told ThePostGame. “We talked a few times and he’s ready. He’s 20-year-old Kobe [again]. It should be a crazy environment. I’m ready for the upcoming season, it should be a good one.”

Allen and Harden may be right. Keep in mind, before tearing his Achilles in 2012-13, Bryant was having a monster season in which he averaged 27.3 points, 6.0 assists, 5.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals. His efficiency rating was an impressive 23.1, which was ranked ninth-best among all NBA players. He was incredibly productive and didn’t seem to be showing any signs of decline.

KobeBryantInsideOnly2The question is, can he return to that level of play after these injuries? One of the worst things about an Achilles injury is that it makes the body vulnerable to many other injuries. Just ask Chauncey Billups. The veteran point guard hasn’t been the same player since he tore his Achilles with the Los Angeles Clippers back in 2012, mainly because various other injuries kept nagging him long after his Achilles was healed.

“The thing that held me back a lot last season was my peroneal tendon on the side of my foot and bottom of my Achilles,” Billups told InsideSoCal.com last November. “That is what ailed me. My Achilles was fine. My Achilles,  I had no issues. I had a successful rehab with that. It was other things with that peroneal tendon that set me back and enabled me to play 20 something games. It was no issue for me. It wasn’t the Achilles at all.

“I think it was all [related]. You have so much time off from that foot and that side of your body. Of course your leg is not as strong and your left leg. Mine wasn’t that strong as my right leg when I first came back. You have to deal with that and compensating a little bit because it’s not as strong. That’s probably what led to my peroneal tendon being overworked. That’s how I can relate those. It all stemmed from my Achilles.”

Bryant’s health will obviously determine just how productive he can be. He’s hoping that his injuries are behind him, so he can walk away from the game on his own terms rather than being too hurt to continue playing.

In the past, Bryant had said that these last two years would be his final seasons in the NBA. However, now he admits that he could change his mind and he’s leaving open the possibility of continuing his career beyond this current contract.

“Yeah, if something inside of me changes and I want to play some more, and go after it some more… yeah [I’ll keep playing],” Bryant said. “But where I sit right now, I don’t know if I want to do that.”

As long as Bryant is able to play at a high level, he’ll likely be on the court. He’s unsure how long he’ll continue playing, but it’s hard to imagine Bryant retiring if he can still contribute to a team since basketball is his life and he’s so obsessed with the competition.

As one general manager told Sports Illustrated: “You know how it’s been hard for Jordan in retirement? It’s going to be way worse to be Kobe. He has fewer friends and the same competitive drive. At least MJ likes to golf and play cards.”

Over the final years of Bryant’s career, one thing is certain: Bryant is going to push his teammates and never hold back. He expects them to work just as hard as he does and his expectations are always lofty (and sometimes unrealistic). For example, Bryant is entering this season with championship aspirations, despite the fact that the Lakers would be lucky to make the playoffs in the loaded Western Conference with their roster as currently assembled. But that’s just how Bryant is and he’s not shying away from it. He says that his title within the franchise is ‘asshole in chief’ and it’s something he embraces.

“You can’t afford to placate people,” Bryant said. “You can’t afford to do that. You’re a leader. You’re not here to be a social butterfly. You’re here to get them to the promised land. A lot of people shy away from that because a lot of people want to be liked by every­body. I want to be liked too. But I know that years from now they’ll appreciate how I pushed them to get us to that end result.”

Nobody wants to think about it, but Bryant’s retirement is just around the corner. With five championships, two Finals MVP awards, one NBA MVP trophy, 16 All-Star selections, 15 All-NBA nods, three gold medals and 31,700 points scored (the most of any active player and fourth all-time), Bryant has had a hell of a career.

Let’s hope that he can return to superstar form so that he can keep dazzling us and dropping our jaws until the curtain falls. Bryant’s days in the NBA are numbered, so let’s enjoy the show while it lasts.

Record Number of NBA Players Competing in World Cup

The 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup gets underway today in Spain and a record 45 current NBA players will be featured on national team rosters, which is up from 44 in 2010.  The tournament features a record 75 players who have played in the NBA.

The World Cup will showcase 17 former NBA draftees whose rights are currently held by NBA teams, bringing the total number of current NBA players, former NBA players and NBA draftees participating in the tournament to a record 92.

Twenty-one of 24 national teams feature at least one current NBA player, former NBA player or NBA draftee, and 22 NBA teams are represented on national team rosters.

The Cavaliers and Rockets each have four current NBA players in the tournament, while the Bulls, Jazz, Nets and Timberwolves each have three.  The Grizzlies, Kings, Knicks, Pacers, Pelicans, Raptors, Spurs, Trail Blazers and Warriors each have two current NBA players in the tournament.

Outside of the United States, Spain has the most current NBA players with six.  France and Australia feature four current NBA players, while Brazil and Greece each feature three.  Argentina, Croatia and Lithuania each feature two current NBA players.

Here’s a list of current NBA players on 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup rosters:

COUNTRY NBA PLAYER NBA TEAM
Argentina Luis Scola Indiana Pacers
Argentina Pablo Prigioni New York Knicks
Australia Cameron Bairstow Chicago Bulls
Australia Matthew Dellavedova Cleveland Cavaliers
Australia Dante Exum Utah Jazz
Australia Brock Motum Utah Jazz
Brazil Anderson Varejao Cleveland Cavaliers
Brazil Tiago Splitter San Antonio Spurs
Brazil Nenê Washington Wizards
Croatia Bojan Bodgdanovic Brooklyn Nets
Croatia Damjan Rudez Indiana Pacers
Dominican Republic Francisco Garcia Houston Rockets
Finland Erik Murphy Cleveland Cavaliers
France Evan Fournier Orlando Magic
France Nicolas Batum Portland Trail Blazers
France Boris Diaw San Antonio Spurs
France Rudy Gobert Utah Jazz
Greece Kostas Papanikolaou Houston Rockets
Greece Nick Calathes Memphis Grizzlies
Greece Giannis Antetokounmpo Milwaukee Bucks
Lithuania Donatas Motiejunas Houston Rockets
Lithuania Jonas Valanciunas Toronto Raptors
Mexico Jorge Gutierrez Brooklyn Nets
Puerto Rico J.J. Barea Minnesota Timberwolves
Senegal Gorgui Dieng Minnesota Timberwolves
Slovenia Goran Dragić Phoenix Suns
Spain Pau Gasol Chicago Bulls
Spain Marc Gasol Memphis Grizzlies
Spain Ricky Rubio Minnesota Timberwolves
Spain José Calderon New York Knicks
Spain Serge Ibaka Oklahoma City Thunder
Spain Victor Claver Portland Trail Blazers
Turkey Omer Asik New Orleans Pelicans
United States Mason Plumlee Brooklyn Nets
United States Derrick Rose Chicago Bulls
United States Kyrie Irving Cleveland Cavaliers
United States Kenneth Faried Denver Nuggets
United States Andre Drummond Detroit Pistons
United States Stephen Curry Golden State Warriors
United States Klay Thompson Golden State Warriors
United States James Harden Houston Rockets
United States Anthony Davis New Orleans Pelicans
United States DeMarcus Cousins Sacramento Kings
United States Rudy Gay Sacramento Kings
United States DeMar DeRozan Toronto Raptors

 

Here’s a list of NBA free agents on 2014 FIBA World Cup rosters:

COUNTRY NBA PLAYER MOST RECENT NBA TEAM
Australia Aron Baynes San Antonio Spurs
Brazil Leandro Barbosa Phoenix Suns
Mexico Gustavo Ayon Atlanta Hawks
Philippines Andray Blatche Brooklyn Nets
Serbia Miroslav Raduljica Los Angeles Clippers

 

Here’s a list of former NBA players on 2014 FIBA World Cup rosters:

COUNTRY NBA PLAYER MOST RECENT NBA TEAM
Argentina Walter Herrmann Detroit Pistons
Argentina Andres Nocioni Philadelphia 76ers
Australia David Andersen New Orleans Hornets
Australia Nathan Jawai Minnesota Timberwolves
Brazil Alex Garcia New Orleans Hornets
Brazil Marcus Vinicius New Orleans Hornets
Croatia Oliver Lafayette Boston Celtics
Croatia Damir Markota Milwaukee Bucks
Croatia Roko Ukic Milwaukee Bucks
Finland Hanno Möttölä Atlanta Hawks
France Mickael Gelabale Minnesota Timberwolves
Greece Andreas Glyniadakis Seattle SuperSonics
Iran Hamed Haddadi Phoenix Suns
New Zealand Kirk Penney San Antonio Spurs
Puerto Rico Carlos Arroyo Boston Celtics
Puerto Rico Renaldo Balkman New York Knicks
Puerto Rico Daniel Santiago Milwaukee Bucks
Senegal Hamady N’Diaye Sacramento Kings
Serbia Nenad Krstic Boston Celtics
Slovenia Uroš Slokar Toronto Raptors
Spain Rudy Fernandez Denver Nuggets
Spain Juan Carlos Navarro Memphis Grizzlies
Spain Sergio Rodriguez New York Knicks
Ukraine Pooh Jeter Sacramento Kings
Ukraine Slava Kravtsov Phoenix Suns

 

Here’s a list of draftees whose rights are held by NBA teams on World Cup rosters:

COUNTRY NBA PLAYER RIGHTS HELD BY
Australia Brad Newley Houston Rockets
Brazil Raul Neto Utah Jazz
Croatia Dario Saric Philadelphia 76ers
Croatia Ante Tomic Utah Jazz
Finland Petteri Koponen Dallas Mavericks
France Joffrey Lauvergne Denver Nuggets
Greece Georgios Printezis Atlanta Hawks
Iran Arsalan Kazemi Philadelphia 76ers
Lithuania Renaldas Seibutis Dallas Mavericks
Serbia Nemanja Bjelica Minnesota Timberwolves
Serbia Bogdan Bogdanovic Phoenix Suns
Spain Alex Abrines Oklahoma City Thunder
Spain Sergio Llull Houston Rockets
Turkey Cenk Akyol Los Angeles Clippers
Turkey Furkan Aldemir Philadelphia 76ers
Turkey Emir Preldzic Dallas Mavericks
Ukraine Sergii Gladyr Atlanta Hawks

 

Check back throughout the week for more World Cup coverage from Basketball Insiders.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener

Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.

Jesse Blancarte

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“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”

That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.

While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.

Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.

While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.

Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).

While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.

Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.

Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).

“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”

Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.

Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.

“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.

For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.

“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”

Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.

The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.

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