Preview and Chat: Lakers vs. Thunder

Darius Soriano —  December 13, 2013 — 85 Comments

The Lakers coming in: The injury to Steve Blake necessitates yet another lineup change from the Lakers, this time moving Wes Johnson back into the starting lineup as the SF while Kobe slides over to “point guard”. Another change is Jordan Hill working his way back into the first five, replacing Shawne Williams as the starting PF. While there is a sense that Mike D’Antoni is again tinkering with the starting group (Hill for Williams and vice versa has been a season long question) I can’t say I am upset nor surprised with this particular change.

As I’ve said all year, I like Williams’ competitive fire and believe he’s a fine role player when he’s hitting his shots and playing hard defensively (the former hasn’t happened as consistently as I’d like, but the latter is a nightly occurrence). But Hill has been one of the most productive Lakers all season long and he needs more time on the floor. His ability to create extra possessions offensively and help stop the other team from scoring on the other end is simply too valuable to the team. I also like Hill next to Pau as a banger/paint protector/dive man in the P&R. These are key pieces to his game that pair nicely with Gasol’s game and having them on the floor together makes strategic sense.

Getting back to Kobe, while there are concerns about how he’s fitting into what the team was doing offensively before he came back, his move to point guard should help address them – though also create other questions that need resolution. As a primary ball handler, Kobe won’t be able to set up shop in the post early in possessions and will need to initiate the offense from up high rather than the wing. Whether he’s capable of doing this for all his minutes on the floor while keeping his turnovers down and managing a successful offense from the team perspective is open to doubt, but, as he said himself he has no choice in this matter with the Blake, Farmar, and Nash trio all on the shelf with injuries.

The Thunder coming in: OKC remains one of the best teams in the league and the Western Conference. Their 17-4 record trails only the Blazers and the Pacers for the league’s best mark and ties them with the Spurs for the 2nd best record in the conference.

This is a team that is built on the backs of its two superstars – Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Durant is once again showing his scoring dominance, posting a league best mark in that area while continuing with the improved rebounding and playmaking that he showed last season. Westbrook, meanwhile, is back healthy after the meniscus tear he suffered in last year’s playoffs kept him out of the lineup to start the season. Now that he is back, though, he’s showing no real affects of the injury. He’s still extremely athletic and is able to get to the rim and create his own shot just as he has in the past. Combined this duo scores nearly 50 points a game, essentially reclaiming their status as the league’s premier duo (or at least right there with LeBron and a healthy Dwyane Wade).

This team isn’t just about their stars, though. While they lost Kevin Martin in the off-season, back up combo guard Reggie Jackson has elevated his game and provides key minutes off the bench and next to Westbrook in smaller lineups. And, of course, Serge Ibaka remains one of the better power forwards in the league, providing above average play on both sides of the ball. Add to them second year pro Jeremy Lamb, Nick Collison, rookie big man Steven Adams, Thabo Sefolosha, and veterans Kendrick Perkins and Derek Fisher and this team has all the makings of the team we all expect to make a deep playoff run.

Keys to the game: Let’s get this out of the way early – the Lakers are at a deficiency in nearly every way imaginable against the Thunder. OKC has more talent, is younger, has better superstars, and executes better on both sides of the ball. Add to this that they are playing at home (where they are basically unbeatable) and losing this game should be expected. (Sorry if that gets you guys down, but thems the factcs.)

This doesn’t mean the Lakers shouldn’t just show up, however. There are ways the Lakers can remain competitive in this game and they need to play as much to their strengths as possible to try to make that happen.

Offensively, one of the major keys will be ball security. Kobe will need to be careful with the ball when handling in the P&R, not forcing passes and not committing live ball turnovers. Those are the plays that OKC will turn into points with ease, using them as the foundation for the types of runs the Lakers will have trouble recovering from. Another major key will be working hard in the P&R to collapse the paint via the dive and then using that space to create makeable shots from beyond the arc. If the Lakers hope to be close tonight, most of their offensive success will depend on hitting the long ball to  them the extra point on any given possession that will allow them to overcome some of the droughts they are sure to experience.

A last key offensively is work the offensive glass and get some easy baskets inside as frequently as they can. Jordan Hill will likely be guarded by Ibaka and that should translate to him being able to sneak to the rim when Serge challenges shots that come in the paint. Of course, for that to happen, the Lakers must actually challenge the paint and that means that even though the team needs to hit 3’s, guys like Meeks, Young, and Kobe must also try to get into the paint and get shots up at the rim.

Defensively, the Lakers must try to keep Durant and Westbrook somewhat under control OR try to make them high volume shooters for them to get their points. This is easier said than done, but laying off Westbrook and hoping he settles for and misses long jumpshots is a key strategy. As for Durant, the Lakers must force him into help and challenge his jumper without fouling. Tonight is a big night for Wes Johnson as his length and athleticism are ideal for guarding Durant. Does Wes have the savvy and smarts to use those traits? We shall see.

Tempo will be very important tonight. The Lakers like to play fast (or at least they did pre-Kobe), but they can’t get caught up hunting early shots against the Thunder. Take open shots, but don’t force things looking for chances that aren’t there as that’s the style the Thunder will win out with very easily. Instead the Lakers need controlled aggression and smart execution. And even then, they’ll need some luck. Hopefully they get plenty of both. Just don’t count on it.

Where you can watch: 5pm start on TWC Sportsnet and ESPN. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.

Darius Soriano

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85 responses to Preview and Chat: Lakers vs. Thunder

  1. This one’s for Warren!

    Tonight I am going to look at combinations and how people work together, rather than concentrating on whether we are ahead or behind. I think our players have a flexibility last year’s team didn’t have, even if we seem to have the same injury bug. I hope to confirm this observation. Also, I am beginning to think we need to hire one of the Phoenix doctors to infuse our team with a little health.

  2. darius: tall, very tall order. could see garbage time early. save the legs for tomorrow’s contest versus charlotte?

    how does one send your preview via instagram to the visitor’s locker room in Chesapeake Energy Arena?

    Go lakers

  3. This line up will not/cant play the fast system…S. Williams shouldnt play…..Kaman/Johnson/Hill are all better and should play more then Williams…..Lakers should try and trade Pau and get what ever they can…Pau is useless for D.A…..Hate to say this but Sacramento is ahead of us on the rebuild….What 2 players on the Lakers(with age being a factor)would you rather have then Cousins and Gay ???

  4. This place is very funny. Darius with the complete belly buster on Twitter with regard to the Pau-MD spat; rr goes way back and pulls Herman Munster out on the Rocket’s coach, and lil pau with the Spinal Tap reference.
    Craig W.: Our injury history of late certainly warrants a review of our training, conditioning, and rehab programs. That said, I am just saying “no” to anything coming from Phoenix.

  5. Kobe Alert: KB scored 20 points in just his second game back from his injury. This was the 893rd twenty point game for Kobe. He is 4th on that all time list and is pursuing Michael in 3rd. Also during the Suns game, Kobe moved by Derrick Coleman to slide into 57th on the All Time Defensive Rebound list. With regard to All Star voting, people were listening to my plea to vote early and vote often. Kobes is leading all backcourt players with over 500k votes. Nobody else has 400k votes. Kobe is the all time leader in all time NBA ASG votes. He has been named as a starter 15 out of previous 17 years and the other 2 years he played for Del Harris. He is now 646 points behind the guy who helped Phil win his other 6 rings.

  6. At this point choosing between Pau and MD is like choosing between a cold and the flu,

  7. Ken
    5 mins ago
    At this point choosing between Pau and MD is like choosing between a cold and the flu,

    Lol!!! Good one, namesake!

  8. @rr- i’m not endorsing the paystub comment nor MDA’s leadership for it – i just merely find it amusing for its own sake. I didn’t care for PJ dogging certain players publicly in Chi w Horace Grant or Artest here and I understand not backing people mocking Pau – however Pau’s behaviour is certainly not beyond reproach when he complains publicly despite playing nowhere near as good as he should – and if it’s truly his legs that are gone as you feel – then he should recognize that it’s his own limitations that are leading to the downfall of his game – not solely blame MDA’s system for not putting him in a position to succeed. He even admitted he hadn’t approached MDA privately about so whats a coach to do anyways. Besides which, the Lakers have managed to have some measure of success despite having Nash and kobe out, Pau not playing well, and all the injuries. Credit has to be given to MDA for getting the guys he has to buy in to the system and play as a team at the very least, and due credit to Rambis for the defensive improvement this year.

    @gene – Cousins is tempting but that guy is a complete headcase and Rudy Gay is a declining blackhole who is having his worst shooting year ever hence w TO pulled the trigger (that and a chance to grab Wiggins as a hometown hero in the draft) Sactown ain’t getting better based around those two unless they ever are able to bring in some true vets to take control of things.

  9. This game has a very good chance of getting very ugly…rather quickly. Could MDA really be a genius? Has he figured out a way to play Kobe big minutes AND improve the Lakers lottery chances?

    Only time will tell.

  10. @Robert – just a follow up as your kobe update got me curious – the injuries to Nash and Kobe really suck when you think in historical terms they may have severely ended chances of both of them ending their careers as Lakers being 2nd all time most pts/assists. Kobe needs 5000+ pts to catch Karl Malone for 2nd (646 or so to catch MJ for 3rd), Nash needs about 1800 to catch Kidd (57 more to pass Mark Jackson for 3rd all time but not get even that :P). I don’t think Kobe can put up the scoring tear over the next two years to catch Kareem – but catching Malone would be doable if his body/achillies can hold out.

  11. Pau has been complaint for 3 years straight. His days in la are limited. Pau’s recent play has absolutely nothing to so do with the system. Pau hasn’t been hitting his wide open jumpers and has sucked when he does get the ball in the post. I’m just dumbfounded that he said he’s not allowed to bang in the post. He gets pushed 15 ft out every time he tries to post up on the block. Pau has had his chances in the post and I’m pretty sure pau leads the league in air balled shots from the post this season. Pau needs to shut up and play. I’m about 99% sure this is his last season in la and it’s good chance he doesn’t finish the season in la.

  12. Has anyone considered his play and complaints are an attempt to force a trade to play with his brother?

  13. Spot on comment about “Kobe keeping his turnovers down”. This is a major key as OKC will convert Lakers turnovers into points. 5.5 is Kobe’s turnover over/under for tonite’s game.

  14. I’m not giving Pau as pass, but I won’t get too upset about his comments. Pau has been on the trade block for the last three years. He was actually traded for several hours until Stern decided to kick dust in the Lakers’ faces. Through all of that he took it in stride. Its that plus his history with the team.

    Yes, he’s washed up at this point. But he’s in the last year of his contract anyway. We always knew the end of Kobe and Pau would not be nice to look at. The worst thing the Lakers could do is move Pau for some longer contract on a marginal player just to get rid of him. They’ve already obstructed their path to successful free agency with Kobe’s high priced deal. If they take a bad contract or two back in a trade for Pau we’ll be looking at the Lakers version of the dark ages over the next few seasons.

    As for tonight, may the force be with our guys. They are going into the lion’s den tonight. And the thought of Kobe on Westbrook has me shaking my head. But him guarding Sefolosha is no better. Kobe always plays off Thabo trying to help on Russ. Thabo then gets loads of room to shoot open jumpers. Either way I don’t expect this one to go well. But who knows? Maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised.

  15. jerke: Yes – the math looks tough, but two things: A) Let’s see what KB’s post injury avg is going to be B) His 20th year may not be his last : ) Nash is all about health.
    T Rogers: “dark ages” We are there! I am waiting for the renaissance. I am hoping it comes beore we beak my dreaded franchise record of 8 years out of the Finals.

  16. Pau isn’t what he was, and won’t be again. Pau’s decline is some what similar to James Worthy, except Worthy’s decline from Big Game James to garbage was faster than Pau’s and to a much lower depth. Would retain Pau because most likely whatever big available would be worse than Pau, and Lakers don’t have perimeter needs.

  17. It’ll be interesting to see how much full court pressure OKC decides to employ against us tonight. And if they choose to do so, we’ll get the opportunity to see what schemes have been implemented by D’Antoni and the coaching staff over the last couple of days in preparation for what they have to know will be all out blitzes of our guards by the opposition.

  18. Keep it under 20 point lose on national TV please.

  19. The trouble with Kobe is there is no middle ground….he will either pass all the time or shoot all the time….he needs to find a balance….

  20. So we playing a running game with both Kobe and Pau on the floor against OKC (Durant and Westbrook). Good luck with that one MDA. Maybe for a few minutes but not whole game.

  21. Change that let’s try not to lose by 40 on national tv!

  22. Why was Meeks taken out after 7 minutes?

  23. We are going to get crushed on this game.We are playing OKC game.

  24. Lakers may give up 160 points tonight…

  25. Yea Mitch is right. They don’t need to go out and find a PG. I see a 0 and 4 road trip coming.

  26. Missing a lot of open shots right now. That, and playing some terrible defense and the whistle hasn’t been very favorable so far.

  27. Boy they look way better.

    With Pau and Kobe out.

  28. Damn team cant boxout to save its life

  29. Meeks has the green light to shoot and shoot and shoot, if that was Kobe taking 3 quick shots like that everyone would be going nuts.

  30. What are the refs watching!?

  31. Looks as if X might’ve sprained something on that last drive to the basket.

  32. Kobe has only one attempt, Meeks has shoot a lot and cant hit anything, i wonder how long till people here start asking for his head.Guess is Kobe and Pau’s fault too. We are getting crushed because we cant rebound and cant defend, horrible horrible game.

  33. @Ken
    Really? Because they are now down by 18 points…

    @Kevin T
    You’re absolutely right about Meeks green light shooting. If he was making them, then that would be one thing. And if Kobe were shooting that much this board would be lighting up with calls for his head.

  34. Wonder if there is point Laker ownership gets embarrassed with what they turned this proud franchise into,

    BTW Meeks missed 6 straight shots .

  35. Ken Oak I may have spoke a bit to soon.

  36. Kobe/Pau pick and roll working tonight, might be the only thing working.

  37. Kobe is making Pau look like is 2008 again. Thats a wise wise man, he is doing exactly what people here wanted him to do and still not enough, way to support your franchise player and one of the best of all time.

  38. Kobe is pulling the offense to himself and Pau because nobody else is doing nothing. This seem like an attempt to prove a point to MDA.

  39. Judging by that last dunk, I guess he’s (X) good to go.

  40. Considering the doomsday like defense im baffled that we are down by “only” 15

  41. Of course okc scored 66, with Lakers best defensive players barely getting any pt… Jordan hill & Wes Johnson. And plz stop playing D league players mda. Sacre and brick Williams are scrubbs while Kaman is rotting on the pine.

  42. Kobe 5 TOs 1st half. Might want to shoot more then once since Williams and Meeks are 3 for 13

  43. Dantoni has to play Wes and hill a lot more. It’s safe to say dantoni prefers Williams over holl

  44. I did not knew about those MDA comments about Pau not playing hard, i believe he is somewhat right but i dont know, in my opinion MDA have not done anything to be showing up a player that have actually won something that way in the press. PJ could do it not freaking MDA. I do think he is right for the most part.

  45. To state the obvious.

    No way this is a playoff team.

  46. Kobe and Pau are playing good i insist they are triying to prove a point, the rest of the team cant buy a bucket. Its not like Kobe and Pau are triying to carry the offense but for the team to compete tonight they needed a 3rd wheel tonight and it was Meeks but he is off tonight, this game would be closer if we have some atitional production from Meeks

  47. @fern – mda’s comments came only in response after hearing of Pau’s public complaints . Neither party is innocent here, but when a player was supposed to have an all star level season then disappears for a variety of reasons and trashes the coach and his system in the press. MDA can be immature for sure – but if Pau is that miserable he needs to man up and just ask for a trade instead of this passive aggressive whining crap

  48. I’m sorry. For a team that needs to get points from everybody, the Lakers cannot afford to have Williams on the court at this time.

  49. Lakers season prospects can’t be fully assessed until Farmar returns. However, since Farmar isn’t a paint defender or rebounder chances are no playoffs.

  50. on the plus side – Kobe playing point and getting involved by setting up people is probably the best way for him to get adjusted to system philosphy, setup, and play. At least it helps keep everyone else involved w/ Kobe initiating. As for those calling for MDA to change lineups etc… the reality is this team as individual players just aren’t that great – subbing one guy in for the other isn’t going to make that much difference – so their sum game as a total team effort has to be greater than their parts/skills. When things are outta sync due to additions/subtractions or lack of effort – then we’ll see games like this a lot more often.

  51. Was kobe guarding ibaka by design?

  52. Great article by CBS Sports…

    “For what it’s worth,’s STAT VU data shows Gasol with 4.5 “close” touches this year. Tim Duncan gets 4.8. David West gets 3.7. Via Synergy Sports, Gasol is shooting 34 percent in the post this year, while spending the most of his touches there, at 36.3 percent. So Gasol is literally getting the ball where he says he wants it, and literally performing horribly in the spot that he says he needs the ball.

    So maybe, you know, it might be time to give up the ghost.”

  53. For a team as bad as they are now why has Kamen not played in 9 games?

  54. The only positive that I can take from this game is the fluidity in which Kobe was moving out there on the court.

    Hopefully, he’s been shut down for the evening with Charlotte on the horizon tomorrow night.

  55. How many points will thunder score? 130?

  56. I’m leading the season in “games turned off in the 3rd quarter”. It sucks to watch them be not very good.

  57. @aaron – i believe mda said in his presser that the Lakers only got .67 pts per postup which is worst in the league – so given what the CBS article states, thats a pretty damning factual account of Paus performance so far this year despite his assertions to contrary

  58. Wonder what the rating in the 2nd half will be for the Xmas day game with Heat.

  59. Kaman sighting…

  60. that TO was for Ken! 😉

  61. So now kamen is playing. Where was he before?

  62. Meeks 3 for 15. Nice job.

  63. Enough of this cant watch anymoreo

  64. Be strong Fern! Chances are they will win a game sooner or later. Could be worse you could have written the Time Warner Check.

  65. We suck

  66. Omg we suck and I blame dantoni.

  67. Meeks standing in the corner – hands still in position to receive a pass – staring at X after the play ended was hilarious.

  68. Just guessing here but Mitch won’t be GM of the year.

  69. Dont get me wrong Ken i be watching tomorrow but today’s game? Nu uh

  70. JustintheNickoftime December 13, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    Watching this is like watching a son taking it to his daddy after years of getting abused. The torched has been passed, its a different league now. Maybe we plummet and watch Kobe put up numbers climbing the stats list. That is all this team has to look forward too for at least another year or two. Praying for a sleeper in the draft.

  71. Well Fern the way that look without a PG(Kobe 8 TO) I will be surprised if they aren’t 10 and 15 by next week. This is what Jimmy and Mitch have chosen to give us loyal fans. A 35 win last place lottery team. ESPN talking heads just said they doubt if they win 35 games.

    45 years a loyal fan and this is a low point for me.

  72. D’Antoni probably thought the Lakers could score 125 tonight, since he wasn’t concerned about the defense. Or the defense would have been better if the Lakers shot better.

  73. With Bynum, Pau can’t play, with Howard, Pau can’t play, without Bynum and Howard Pau still can’t play, i was the one to say before they should trade Gasol after Phil was gone, Phil can’t motivate Pau and nobody can’t . We should remember that, MDA was right when he said last year this Lakers team have to score 110, 120 pts, the problem is that you don’t have players to do that, and Lakers FO can’t find the answer. The only thing this Lakers team can hope is like Clippers team before every year trying to get number one pick .

  74. Few thoughts….

    I was one of D’Antoni’s harshest critics but he has been pretty good this year with what he has had to work with….

    Kobe not being a scoring threat and just being a facilitator not looking to score at all seems eerily familiar to the Game 7 vs Phoenix…mind you now he is officially a point guard…but the threat to score really isn’t there…funny both games ended in blowouts…

    This team HAS to HAS to find a way to address the interior play. Whether its signing a Jason Collins or whether its spending 45 minutes on boxing out…or if they won’t sign shot blockers start practicing taking charges something has to change.

  75. Why does Hill only get 12 minutes?

    we were out-rebounded by 18 and he was only a -4 compared to -16 to -24 for everyone else including MDA’s ”guys”

    I dont like that we cant settle on a front court rotation that works – If I was anyone on our front court I wouldnt be happy with MDA – he messing up the rotations for Pau, Hill, Williams, Kaman, and Sacre — which is the entire front court — as much as some guys want to blame certain guys playing 5 bigs in what should be a rotation of 3 is an issue.

    Kobe does need to keep the TOs lower

    Overall I think we need to try and establish some kind of chemistry and tighten up the rotation to give guys some time playing together vs all the guys having to deal with playing with new guys every 5 mins

  76. Lakers are tanking by accident. They overachieved until Kobe came back and we all saw how bad the Lakers really were. 35 win team, that’s who the Lakers are.

  77. “They’re a good team and they just beat us,” D’Antoni said. “That’s number one. Our defense is not keeping it in front of us right now and offensive rebounds, it’s been a problem for us for a while. We turn the ball over too much. It’s a combination of them outrunning us and them getting to the boards.”</i.
    What defense?? Rebounds?? Hill plays 12 min and you complain about rebounds??? Does MDA have a magic wand to make this go away?

    And how does Kobe Bryant get switched on Kevin Durant, knowing that KB is still getting into shape? Because you would never see Steve Nash switched like that. What defensive scheme is this?

  78. Mike doesn’t know bigs. They are invisible to him. If you can ‘t run around in circles and shoot 3 pointers you don’t exist. MD would have messed up Kareem’s career. He would have had Wilt at the 3 point line. Mike is a one trick pony and that pony has never won anything.

  79. This kid Beverly for Houston is a darn good PG. Oh that’s right he was Lakers 2 rd round pick and they dumped him. Just won game for Rockets 7 of 9 shooting .

    Must of had two many PGs 3 years ago.

  80. OKLAHOMA CITY — Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol has made it clear in recent days that he still isn’t comfortable with his role in coach Mike D’Antoni’s offense.

    But D’Antoni says he’s heard it all before, and to him it’s getting old.

    “The biggest thing is, everybody, to a man, we’ve just got to play harder and worry about things less,” D’Antoni said after the team’s morning shootaround in advance of Friday night’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. “Hopefully we do that tonight

  81. no need for outrage. common sense says this team has this performance in ’em.
    they just need to keep trying and they need to keep a good attitude. so do the fans….
    there are no solutions other than that. with no point guards and a system that relies on the one position, it’s going to be ugly. maybe they can keep it together in the mean time. i’d rather hope for the best rather than look forward to doom. in any case, if it comes to doom, it’s doom all around. worrying about it wouldn’t have made it less than doom.

    a good feeling, even if it’s very, very small now, could go a long way towards a better outcome sooner. that’s hard to prove scientifically though…

  82. Folks, there are certain moments in life when it’s time to move on. This was an ugly loss. But it’s time to go on to the next one.

    I suggest we just put this game behind us and focus on Charlotte. This next one is a winable game even though Charlotte is playing well under Steve Clifford, especially on defense.

    If the Lakers control Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker, the Lakers should win. Let’s move forward, not look back. It’s a long season. Far from over.

  83. Kobe had 13 assists in 23 minutes but 7 turnovers. When he turns a couple more passes into shot attempts the turnovers will go down. He’s the franchise player so he’s supposed to produce, but it sucks he’s forced to do so much so soon coming back from a 8 month layoff. Injury bug caught Lakers at the wrong time.

    Obviously Pau wants to be traded. He isn’t saying it but he’s saying everything else. Outright dismissing the coach, saying other teams are intriguing and playing like crud at the same time I believe will get him traded. And Hill has fallen off a cliff. D’Antoni knew what he was talking about him having to play in spurts not big minutes because of his playing style.

  84. Not only is OKC an extremely good club, they are a bad matchup for the Laker squad. Add in that we lost all our PGs in the MDA system and you have a recipe for disaster. Charlotte is a better matchup, but we will have to work very hard. Thank goodness our older players got some rest in the 4th qtr of that mess.

    Go Lakers!

  85. Kevin

    Kobe came back to soon. Team was hanging in there without him. Getting 4 points with 7 TO isen’t what they need right now. Could have brought a guy up from D League for that. Defense, points and go to guy at end of games is what they need from Kobe. Kobe admits he can’t even take a jumper and D is not there.

    No way Jerry West or Jerry Buss lets him come back until he was 90%. The guy I see is much less and should have waited another month.

    I think the pressure for rating and sell outs along with Kobe’s pride has created a no win situation. The team is worse and Kobe may force himself into positions which could cause injury.

    Strong ownership should have taking control and waited, that is clearly not the case here.

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