Alright folks, we’re back here in The ‘Shop with another special guest for the week. Allow us to welcome Harrison Faigen, the Associate Editor in Chief of Silver Screen & Roll (among a host of other cool things and places we will undoubtedly get into), to this holiday edition of our weekly discussion.
Jabari: Harrison AKA Pau Gasol’s little brother Faigen, thanks a lot for joining this week. Since the holiday season is upon us, let me start you off by asking what your perfect “gift” would be from the NBA this season? Our Joel Brigham did a fun collaborative piece with the Basketball Insiders team on this very subject, so I’m eager to see your response to this.
Harrison: Thanks for having me and happy holidays to both of you as well. The NBA has given me some solid gifts already, from a new CBA (Yay no lockout!), to a surprisingly fun start to the Lakers’ season (we’ll ignore the lump of coal that is their last 11 games). Aside from turning injuries off, I think the main thing I’d like to see from the NBA is a more reasonable schedule. It sounds like the new CBA will at least partially address this, but I’m tired of it being the “smart” move to rest players when it would seem like it wouldn’t be that hard to stretch the season out a bit more to make doing so a little bit less necessary (except in case of injuries or real wear and tear).
What about you guys? What do you want from Adam Silver-Claus?
Lang: Welcome to The ‘Shop Harrison. Appreciate the time. This NBA season has been good to me. Seeing guys like Russell Westbrook and James Harden put up these historical type of numbers has been awesome to watch. I know some people are nitpicking in the moment, but I’m not. When you have two certified goodie monsters putting in top level work, just sit back, shut up and enjoy the show.
One thing I want from Adam Silver-Claus goes back to the topic of resting guys. Overall, I don’t like what’s been going on because it hurts the product from a fan’s perspective. But anytime I go too far down that road I start to sound like old school bitter artists that complain about this generation’s music. I don’t want to be the “get off my lawn” guy, but I do think Silver-Claus should enforce the guys at least showing up to the arena, unless the rest is announced with sufficient notice. That way the player can still be available for fans to sign autographs, take pictures and what not. What are you thinking Jabari, is this wishful thinking? To, at the very least, have guys accessible and in the building even if they’re supposed to be “resting?”
Jabari: I actually agree about players being available for fans and even the media when simply “resting” here and there. Not sure the league will enforce it, but I would like to see that happen for the fans that wind up paying the exorbitant prices for the tickets. In order to avoid simply echoing what each of you said, I’ll agree the NBA has been very good to us so far this year and thus far under Silver-Claus, in general. Just like I asked for in Joel’s article, can we just get some great games to enjoy on Christmas Day? No blowouts, no duds. That’s all I ask.
For the sake of today’s discussion, let me get each of you to choose just three of the potential Basketball Hall of Fame candidates (NOT an actual limitation) from the group that was recently announced. For me, although “Twitter” will foolishly argue against it at times, Tracy McGrady is an absolute no-brainer. I also cannot tell you how much the fanboy (since the “Fab Five” days) in me appreciates that C-Webb (20.7 PPG, 9.8 RPG, ROY, 5x AS & All-NBA) is finally being nominated.
I also think Ben Wallace (6x All-Defensive Team, 4x DPOY) makes a lot of sense for those of us that actually watched his career. Either of you putting Sir UTEP 2-Step, AKA Tim Hardaway, in? Is he far enough away from his post-career controversial commentary (let Google be your friend) and does he have a strong enough resume (17.7 PPG, 8.2 APG, 5x AS & All-NBA) to finally make it in?
Harrison: I agree that McGrady is a shoe-in. The only argument against him is going to come from the “RINGZZZZ” crowd but prime McGrady was unbelievable for some truly godawful Orlando Magic teams. Easily one of the best scorers I’ve ever seen, and it was incredible to watch him and young Kobe Bryant cook on the same nights back in the day.
The other two guys Jabari went with probably mirror my list (Webber is arguably the best passing big man ever and keyed a Kings’ attack I loved to hate as a kid and Wallace was one of the most imposing defenders in league history), but just to keep this interesting I’ll throw out Bill Bertka’s name as someone who should already be in the Hall of Fame. Bertka is a basketball lifer who has not only continued to be a part of the Lakers’ draft process well into his 80’s, but he was a pioneering coach who helped bring the first advance film study to the NBA as well.
Jabari: GREAT mention of Bertka, Harrison. I actually forget that he’s not already a member because I think that’s an absolute absurdity. He’s in great shape at the age of 89, but it sure would be great to see him be able to enjoy this honor rather than slipping him in after-the-fact. But I figure the Hall would know about honoring the historical greats throughout history more than I would. Last thing about the HOF before moving on, now that players only have to wait four seasons (one less than before) to become eligible for candidacy, should we expect to see Rasheed Wallace’s name on next year’s ballot?
Harrison: After growing up as a Lakers fan, my main memory of Rasheed is him beating up on a young Luke Walton like he wanted his lunch money, so as painful as this is for my inner child to admit, yes Rasheed should at the very least be nominated for the Hall of Fame next year. He was a stretch four-five before the term even existed and a great player in the era he played in, and he’s easily a top-ten among guys you’d like to see get a chance to play in this era because they’d fit better.
Lang: Man, I’m coming off as a Debbie Downer this week. Guess I’m not the same when I’m hungry. But Rasheed wouldn’t get my vote for the Hall of Fame. I don’t believe we ever got to see the true potential of Rasheed Wallace manifest, which is a damn shame. From 2000-2003 we saw consistent flashes of what he could have been but at the end of the day, only four All-Star appearances in 16 seasons and no All-NBA or All-Defensive nods to leverage speaks volumes. But respect to ‘Sheed. He helped transform the way power forwards are expected to play in today’s game. Definitely one of his era’s best. Definitely a trendsetter. NBA champion. Great teammate. But just not a Hall of Famer in my view. Ball Don’t Lie.
Jabari: I also get where you are coming from with ‘Sheed, Lang. He’s one of my favorite of that generation of players, but I’m not sure the actual resume will get him there. Selfishly, I want him to make it because I think the speech and moment would be epic, but I’m not certain it will happen.
Alright, last topic of the day will have to do with some trade talk. Even though my standard position on trade rumors is to take them with a grain of salt, I think the Lakers may actually be in a position to potentially capitalize on one (or more) situations where a disgruntled and/or dissatisfied, veteran player may be actively campaigning for a change of zip code. Harrison, I’ve heard you discuss some of the options that could be out there for them on your @LockedOnLakers podcast (S/O to Anthony Irwin, and be sure to follow the show on Twitter), so let me get you to put on your honorary ‘Jim Buss’ hat to rank each of these players in terms of the order of interest the Lakers SHOULD have and tell me what you’d be willing to part ways with: DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George, Greg Monroe (why are you smiling?), Nerlens Noel, Arron Afflalo. Lang, tell’em why he’s spot-on or crazy in response.
Harrison: I get to wear the cap Jim Buss wears everywhere he goes? All right, I knew it was a good idea to come to the ‘Shop.
- Paul George: The perfect fit for what the Lakers need out of their off-guard/wing position in just about every way. An All-NBA level defense with ball-handling and shooting skills to boot, George would slide in seamlessly alongside D’Angelo Russell to create the best Lakers ballhandling combination since prime Kobe and whoever the Lakers wanted to put next to him. Unfortunately, the giving up assets thing is the tough part here. The Pacers would be unlikely to bite for much short of the entire Lakers’ young core in a deal and George isn’t good enough to mortgage your entire franchise over.
- DeMarcus Cousins: A similar case to George, but a slightly less clean fit schematically and more potential off-the-court issues (and to be fair, probably more raw talent). Recent press blowup related fines aside, the Kings seem dead set on keeping Cousins. But if I’m wearing my Jim Buss cap, I do check in around the deadline to see if Vivek Ranadive has an irrational love for any of the Lakers’ non-Russell or Ingram young players. If he’s willing to make the trade for something like Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson (unlikely but who knows, it’s the Kings), then I think you have to take the risk. However, the new CBA making even more gargantuan extensions possible for George and Cousins makes trades for either seem unlikely.
- Nerlens Noel: Our first (and possibly only) real trade candidate! I’ve seen a lot of Lakers fans suggest a Clarkson for Noel deal, and I could see some merit in that for both sides. That being said, Noel’s injury issues concern me quite a bit, as does his restricted free agency, which will force the Lakers to pony up big money for him with only half a season to see how he fits with the rest of the young group.
- Arron Afflalo: If you can’t tell by now, I’m not very pro-trade with this Lakers team. I think I (Jim Buss for right now) should show patience and see what this young Lakers’ core can be. Arron Afflalo is having a pretty mediocre season in Sacramento, and I’m not sure what or why the Laker would trade for him. He’s only not last on this list because of the last name.
- (986th) Greg Monroe: Ah, Greg Monroe. He whose signing with Bucks birthed actual columns on the internet suggesting the Lakers’ big market advantage was dead because “superstar” free agents like him were signing with the Bucks. That seems a bit premature, in hindsight. Monroe is playing less than 20 minutes per game for the Bucks, and while to be fair to him he’s a pretty horrible fit for their roster, I don’t see any way he’s a better fit in Los Angeles, or really the modern NBA. As a post-up and nothing else specialist, Monroe is part of a dying breed of defensively inept giants who are going to continue to get run off of the floor in all but the most special cases, and I do not endorse the Lakers offering anything of value for his $17 million contract this year with an option to make nearly $18 million next year.
Am I totally off on those, or being a giant TRADE RUMORZZZ buzzkill? Is homerism coloring my view of the Lakers’ young core?
Lang: Very strong take my man. I tend to agree. It’s weird to watch the decline of Greg Monroe. I will say this, people are totally trying to go away from back to the basket big men but I think the giants still have place in the league, especially come playoff time where the refs bite the whistle and games become ground and pound affairs. The ability to score easy baskets inside is magnified in the postseason.
I think the only player the Lakers need to be targeting on the above list is Nerlens Noel. I would give up a Larry Nance and Jordan Clarkson package to get the job done. Philadelphia may bite. They desperately need a guard to go along with their talented collection of young frontcourt players. The Lakers still need a center, even though Timofey Mozgov is only in the first year of a four-year deal. I would definitely pick up the phone, at the very least, if I’m the Lakers to gauge what Philly needs in order to make the trade happen. It’s apparent he is unhappy with how the “process” is going.
Jabari: You guys are probably both right in terms of what the Lakers could realistically grab on the market, unless they wanted to essentially gut the roster for a really big name. As I often say, even though they’ve hit a bit of a rough patch while dealing with some injuries over the last couple of weeks, they are in the position of actually having choices in terms of how they want to rebuild. We’ll certainly keep an eye on that situation over the course of the year, but on behalf of the site and obviously my guy Lang, allow me to thank Harrison for joining us for this week’s discussion. From each of us to all of you, enjoy your holidays…and hopefully with some great basketball in the background.
NBA Daily: Tyus Jones Thriving in Bigger Role
Minnesota’s Tyus Jones speaks to David Yapkowitz about his growing role with the Wolves.
It was the last game of the 2016-17 NBA season. The Minnesota Timberwolves had been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention for quite some time. Their opponent that night, the Houston Rockets, had an impressive year and were on their way to the postseason.
Although the Wolves would go on to lose that game, 123-118, Tyus Jones came off the bench to have to his best game of the year. He would finish with 17 points on 66.7 percent shooting from the field, 75 percent from the three-point line, seven assists, four rebounds, two steals, and a blocked shot.
Jones had just finished up his second year in the NBA, which had gone a little bit just like his first; a few games played here and there followed by some DNP-CD’s. Rookie Kris Dunn was ahead of him on the depth chart at backup point guard for the majority of the year. That stat line he put up on the last night of the season, however, should have been a sign of things to come.
Now in his third year, and second playing under Tom Thibodeau, Jones has firmly seized the backup point guard spot. Thibodeau is notorious for playing short rotations, and along with Jamal Crawford and Gorgui Dieng, Jones has solidified himself as one of Minnesota’s most dependable reserves.
“It’s been good, I’m just trying to contribute to the team as much as possible,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “I want to do whatever I need to do to help this team win more games.”
The Timberwolves have done just that so far. They won 31 games all of last season. This year, they already have 16 wins. They didn’t break that mark last season until mid-January. Jones’ impact on the Wolves this year has been a big reason for that.
His stats may not jump off the page; he’s averaging 3.9 points per game on 42.5 percent shooting, and 2.8 assists in about 17 minutes of play. But he’s become a reliable floor leader who is able to anchor the Wolves second unit. He’s also one of their best floor spacers at 38.2 percent from the three-point line, and he’s an improved defensive player.
“For me, having a little bit bigger role this year, it’s what I wanted,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just trying to make the most of it and take advantage of it.”
Jones has definitely taken advantage of his new role. Starting point guard Jeff Teague missed four games last month due to a sore right Achilles tendon. Aaron Brooks started in place of Teague for the first game he missed, but Jones was the starter for the next three.
In his first ever career start on Nov. 26 in a win over the Phoenix Suns, Jones had nine points on 50 percent shooting, four rebounds, seven assists, seven steals, and two blocks. The following game, albeit in a loss to the Washington Wizards, he finished with 12 points, four rebounds, and seven assists. In his final start before Teague returned, a win over the New Orleans Pelicans, he had his best game of the season with 16 points on 66.7 percent shooting, four rebounds, six assists, and four steals.
“It was a dream, I’m just trying to make the most of it,” Jones told Basketball Insiders about being a starter. “Once again, take advantage of the opportunity and just do my role.”
Although Jones only spent one season playing college basketball before entering the NBA draft, it was the program he attended that’s allowed him to make a seamless transition. He played at Duke under Mike Krzyzewski during the 2014-15 season, winning a national championship alongside fellow NBA players Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, and Quinn Cook.
“It’s the best program in the country. Coach K is the best coach, arguably ever, to coach the game,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “There’s nothing comparable on the college level, playing at Duke. They’re the brightest lights, so that helps prepare you for the next level.”
The Wolves are a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in over a decade. It was the 2003-04 season, to be exact. This year, however, they are hoping to change that. They currently sit in fourth place in the Western Conference, fighting for the right to host a playoff series in the first round.
“We’re trying to make the playoffs, that’s our goal right now,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “Each year, we’re trying to get better. We’re still trying to take that next step. This organization hasn’t been to the playoffs in a number of years.”
With Jones playing a pivotal role, the Wolves’ playoff drought looks like it will be coming to an end very shortly.
NBA Most Valuable Player Watch — 12/12/17
Dennis Chambers updates the latest MVP watch rankings.
The NBA season is coming in hot on Christmas Day games, and before we know it the new year will arrive as well. As the second half of the season starts to come into sight, more stability among the league’s MVP candidates will prevail.
By now, most of the frontrunners for the award have staked their claim of consistent dominance over the last eight weeks of the NBA season.
For our list here at Basketball Insiders, the same names make up our ladder from the last MVP race installment. A slight juggling of the order is the only new wrinkle. Thus far, these individuals have put themselves ahead of the pack.
A full season in the NBA is a long race, but through the first few laps, these are the MVP leaders.
6. Steph Curry (Last Week: 3)
Coming in at No. 3 on the last list, Steph Curry sees a bit of a tumble in the standings. Unfortunately for Curry, he’s suffering from a sprained ankle that is going to cause him to miss some time. Fortunately for the Golden State Warriors, they’ve won three straight games without their star point guard.
This doesn’t discredit the type of season Curry is having, or his brilliance on the court when he’s healthy, but the fact that the Warriors have enough firepower to sustain his absence damages his claim to the most “valuable” player throne.
Nevertheless, for the Warriors to truly fulfill their championship potential, Curry needs to be healthy and playing. Otherwise, the Warriors aren’t as lethal as they could be.
Barring a complete meltdown from his ball club, Curry’s spot will likely continue to drop slightly as he sits on the bench watching his team win games without him.
Almost the exact opposite of Curry, the Philadelphia 76ers don’t seem to have a prayer at winning basketball games that Joel Embiid sits out of. Luckily for the city of Philadelphia, though, that hasn’t been nearly frequent of an occurrence as past seasons.
The on/off numbers for Embiid are staggering. On both ends of the court, no less. Without their big man, the Sixers’ offensive rating drops off by more than five points and their defensive rating sees a 10-point spike in favor of their opponents.
In short, it’s worse for the Sixers when Embiid is tweeting rather than playing.
After missing back-to-back games over the weekend, Embiid’s value became more apparent to the Sixers. Among a myriad of injuries, Embiid’s was felt the heaviest as his team posted a defensive rating of 111.6 to the Cleveland Cavaliers and then a 130.2 the next night to the New Orleans Pelicans.
Both figures are a far cry from the 102.9 rating the team records with Embiid on the floor.
Much like Curry, the Sixers will need Embiid on the court moving forward to live their best life. So long as he is resting on back-to-backs, or sitting with back soreness, the Sixers won’t be as fortunate as the Warriors to pull out wins.
Masked Kyrie joined Untucked Kyrie this season as another alter ego capable of taking the NBA and Twitter by storm on a nightly basis.
Irving, despite suffering an injury to his face that forced him to wear a protective mask a la Rip Hamilton, still has the Boston Celtics atop the league standings with his MVP campaign so far this season. Over Irving’s last 10 games, he’s averaging 25.8 points on 53 percent shooting from the field and 44 percent from beyond the arc. Over the course of that same span, the Celtics are 7-3.
Just to strengthen his already solid MVP claim, the Celtics went into Chicago Monday night to play the Bulls without Irving, as he sat out of the game with a quad contusion. All the league’s best team preceded to do was lose 108-85 to the league’s worst team.
At this point in the season, MVP candidates have their statistics in place. As viewers and fans, we really get to see the difference they make on their teams during the games that they aren’t playing, and Monday night for the Celtics was a microcosm of Irving’s season-long importance to the success of their team.
The Greek Freak is still putting up absurd numbers, keeping him right in the conversation for Most Valuable Player. On top of his gaudy production, the Milwaukee Bucks are starting to pile up some wins as well.
Winning six of their last seven games — the only loss coming to the Celtics where Antetokounmpo put up 40 points, nine rebounds, and four assists — the Bucks currently hold a 15-10 record and the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
It’s been well-documented up to this point how effective Antetokounmpo is for Milwaukee from a numbers standpoint. If he can really start translating those performances into wins over good teams, the narrative of him winning the award may begin to revert back the dominance it held over the first few weeks of the season.
As it currently stands, though, Antetokounmpo is ahead of the rest of the pack before a pretty sizeable gap at the two spots above him.
After having his Cavaliers’ 13-game win streak snapped by an unconscious Victor Oladipo, LeBron James returned to business as usual by defeating the shorthanded Sixers without Kevin Love by his side. He did so in typical Year 15 fashion, posting 30 points, 13 rebounds, 13 assists, and three steals.
No big deal.
That’s the mantra for James’ 15th year in the NBA: Do it all, and do it well. He doesn’t have the supporting cast that many projected coming into this season, and Irving is out doing his thing in Boston. But for the King of the NBA, after a month of rough basketball, he seems to be figuring it all out for his club and putting them in the positions they need to be in to be successful.
Since the start of Cleveland’s winning streak up until the game against Philadelphia, James is averaging 27.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 8.5 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.1 blocks, 55 percent shooting from the field and 44 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
His team is 14-1, Irving is in Boston, and Isaiah Thomas is on the bench.
Year 15 may very well end with James getting MVP number five.
The only man standing between James and his fifth MVP is the man who’s setting the league on fire trying to get his first.
James Harden is recreating his stellar season from a year ag but improving it, somehow. Harden’s averages are incredible: 32 points, 9.5 assists, 5.1 rebounds, 40 percent from downtown, and a 31.6 player efficiency rating.
Not to mention he’s led the Houston Rockets to a 21-4 record, and looks to be a real threat at knocking off the Golden State Warriors.
What Harden is doing on the defensive end is what is brining his game, and his MVP case, to the next level. Harden is posting his lowest defensive rating is four years and coming up big on D in crunch time situations.
On Monday night against the Pelicans, Harden came up with a clutch steal with under a minute to go (his sixth of the night) to extinguish a New Orleans rally and put the icing on his 26-point, 17-assist performance.
LeBron may be having an MVP season, even by his standards, but Harden’s performance this year thus far is keeping the King at arms length of the MVP crown.
NBA DAILY: What Is Really Wrong With The Thunder?
The Thunder continue to struggle to string together wins. What’s the problem in OKC?
At Some Point It Just Doesn’t Work
The Oklahoma City Thunder continue to be middling, despite having the star level talent it takes in the NBA to be exceptional. With the clock ticking in the wrong direction, is it more likely that this combination of players won’t work, or is there something bigger at play worth considering?
Before we dive too far into this, keep in mind the Thunder have played their 26th game, and are just a half a game out of the eighth spot in the West. Equally, they are also three and a half games behind the fourth-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves, so the sky is far from falling. In fact, they have won four of their last six games, including wins over the Spurs and Timberwolves, which only makes the Jekyll and Hyde of all of this even more frustrating.
All of that said, what’s really wrong with the Thunder? Here are some thoughts:
Not Enough Touches
The Oklahoma City Thunder are dead last in the NBA in touches per game as a team at 384. To contrast that number, the Philadelphia 76ers lead the league in touches at 480.9 touches per game.
Thunder guard Russell Westbrook accounts for 94.4 touches per game, while forward Carmelo Anthony accounts for 61.3 touches with swingman Paul George bringing in 56.0 touched per game. Those three players account for 211.7 of the Thunders 384 touches per game.
That’s not as bad as you would think watching the Thunder play, but what it does illustrate is that neither Anthony or Paul are getting the volume of touches both are used to getting before joining the Thunder. It’s also why neither seems to be able to get into a rhythm on a game to game bases. They have had their moments individually, but it been far from consistent.
It’s more than fair to say that the Thunder offense isn’t generating enough touches to maximize what George and Anthony bring to the table. When the Miami HEAT brought their “Big Three” together, one of the biggest challenges they faced was how to generate the touches to get all their guys in a rhythm and rolling.
That seems to be the biggest part of the problem with the Thunder.
Russ Has To Be Russ
When you look at the Thunder’s “convincing wins” those wins in which they look like an elite team in the NBA, Russell Westbrook plays like last year’s MVP.
The problem for the Thunder is it seems Russell is trying to get other players, specifically Anthony, often to the detriment of his team and his own game. When Westbrook puts his head down and plays his game, the Thunder tend to come out on top.
Westbrook never seemed to have this problem playing with Kevin Durant, and maybe that’s why Durant opted to leave, but Westbrook seems to be trying too hard to get others going.
Where’d Offense Go?
The Thunder continue to talk about how good they are defensively, and that’s a real thing. They are currently the ranked second in the NBA’s defensive rating category. They rank second in point allowed per 100 possessions at 103, just behind league leader Boston at 101.6 points per 100 possessions.
There is no doubt their defense is keeping them in games, but what’s killing them is the long stretches of sub-par offense, many times in the fourth quarter where their offense comes to a grinding halt.
Some have suggested that head coach Billy Donovan simply isn’t creative enough for the construct of this roster. Looking at the stats this far into the season, there may be something to the idea that the Thunder, offensively, just are not creative enough to maximize the potential of their star players.
It’s Not A Selfish Problem
The easy answer on the Thunder is to say they are simply selfish players. There is enough historical evidence on Anthony and Westbrook to support the idea, however, if you really look at the Thunders’ games, it’s actually the opposite. Westbrook likely isn’t selfish enough; it’s likely why he’s struggling from the field on the season.
Part of the offensive problem may be Westbrook’s shooting. His averages this season is markedly down from a year ago—39.6 percent this season from the field versus 42.5 percent last season. Westbrook is also 31.1 percent from three this year versus 34.3 percent from three last season.
But Westbrook is not alone, George is tying his second worst season from the field at 41.8 percent shooting. Anthony is having his worst year as a pro from the field at 40.4 percent.
All three are producing some of their lowest efficiency ratings of their careers, so it’s not just one guy doing so much more than the other. None of them are playing particularly well together.
It’s easy to look at the Thunder and label them one thing or the other; there are enough polarizing personalities on the roster to draw the labels. The truth of the matter is the Thunder just are not very good or efficient offensively, and until they find a way to make that part work, they will likely continue to be middling.
That’s going to make things fairly tough on the Thunder front office, because come the February 9th NBA Trade Deadline, the Thunder may have to cut bait on some players before they potentially lose them in free agency for nothing. The trade deadline is only about 60 days away, believe it or not.
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