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Category: Lakers-Thunder

What I would've tweeted during Lakers-Thunder game

Derek Fisher

At about this time, I would've been writing preview posts for the Lakers' season opener tonight against the Oklahoma City Thunder. In a few hours, I would've been driving to Staples Center, listening to Lakers talk on the radio and envisioning the beginning of another fun-filled season. Then I would've lived it, watching the game behind the basket, hosting our live game chat, tweeting updates and then talking to players in the locker room afterward.

Instead, I have to endlessly hear about basketball-related income, revenue sharing and amnesty clauses. Worse, I have to wonder when the season will ever start. It's surely a depressing time for basketball fans, and it got me thinking what I would've tweeted had this Lakers-Thunder game actually taken place...

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Lakers shouldn't see early playoff adversities as lessons


Considering each run to a championship a journey, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson has compared that process to a school year.

The season proves just as long. There are plenty of ups and downs. And there are plenty of teachable moments.

"It's a process that for me I've had great fortune in looking at seasons as something of a long haul where it's going to be an eight-month or seven-and-a-half month project," Jackson said before the 2010-2011 season started. "But in reality, you still have to give import to this opening game or this next game next week or this preseason game."

It's a tough balancing act between ensuring that team members strategically pace themselves without mailing in performances, and ensuring that they play sharp basketball without burning out. The most telling example is the San Antonio Spurs, who looked mostly sharp throughout the season en route to a Western Conference-leading 61-21 record, only to lose a six-game first-round playoff series to the Memphis Grizzlies.

Lakers guard Derek Fisher once argued that the team needs challenges and adversities because that allows for "true growth." That's fair enough, but save those lessons for the regular season.

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How would the Lakers match up with the Thunder in the playoffs?


Standing at center court, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant approached Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant and Thunder guard Russell Westbrook and shook their hands, knowing the defending champions had survived a six-game first-round playoff series that presented plenty of adverse moments. Bryant must have been  aware that any sense of satisfaction in advancing past Oklahoma City would be temporary. The Lakers still had three playoff matchups to handle before winning the 2010 NBA championship.

"I told them they were incredible basketball players, for them to keep working and they're going to be a team we're going to have to deal with for years to come," Bryant told ESPN's Lisa Salters at the time, which summed up well the Lakers' highly competitive six-game series against the youthful and athletic Thunder.

A reunion happened Monday with the Lakers 101-94 victory over Oklahoma City, and the two-time defending champions faced the same problems in defending Westbrook (32 points), ensuring Durant's baskets came with plenty of attempts (24 points on eight-of-24 shooting), plenty of transition baskets (16 points) and the Lakers fighting to hold onto a 15-point third-quarter lead. It featured Bryant barking at teammates to help him defend Westbrook and ensure the offense ran smoothly. It entailed Pau Gasol playing more aggressively to complement Lamar Odom's consistent presence and Andrew Bynum's foul trouble. It required Derek Fisher to post a season-high 15 points. And it required Lakers forward Ron Artest to clock in, as he put it, "double time" on defense, remaining on Durant and also helping out on Westbrook, which provided a good test of his offseason efforts to slim down to 250 pounds and keep up with more agile scorers.

The Lakers (31-12) effort proved enough to record their most impressive victory to date, a claim the team wouldn't acknowledge. But here's one thing they would: The Lakers and Thunder (27-14) are currently locked in as the second and third Western Conference seed and would conceivably meet in the semifinals if the season were to end today. There are 39 more games to allow the Lakers to play out various scenarios, but it still doesn't escape the possibility of a reunion in the 2011 postseason.

"We very easily could," Bryant said.

That's why it's a good time to see how the Lakers would fare against the Thunder should they meet in the playoffs.

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Dissecting Kobe Bryant's aggressive play in Lakers' 101-94 victory over Thunder


Time and again, Kobe Bryant's expressions told the whole story.

He clenched his teeth after nailing a contested jumper. He scolded and then encouraged Pau Gasol after bobbling a pass. He barked orders to Ron Artest on where to move within the offense. And he let out grunts as he attacked the rim with a verve that harks back to his young years.

The Lakers' 101-94 victory Monday night over the Oklahoma City Thunder featured Bryant scoring 21 points on seven-for-12 shooting, dishing out seven assists and hauling down five rebounds with a perfectly nuanced method. He forced Thunder defenders to take his outside shot seriously. He burned the OKC frontline for allowing him to drive the lane. He exploited mismatches by setting up various teammates, including Gasol (21 points), Lamar Odom (16 points), Derek Fisher (season-high 15 points), Andrew Bynum (10) and Artest (seven points).

"He got the right guys going," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said of Bryant.

Below the jump, I document how.

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Things to watch in Lakers-Oklahoma City matchup

588403631. Will the Lakers respond in appropriate fashion?

It's easy to presume that following an effortless loss against the Clippers, the Lakers (30-12) would respond in convincing fashion Monday at Staples Center against the Oklahoma City Thunder (27-13). They felt frustrated after losing to a sub-.500 opponent, although the Clippers have been over .500 the last 10 games. They play a likely playoff contender in OKC that tested them in the first round of the 2010 NBA playoffs. And the tougher portion of the Lakers' schedule now officially begins, including matchups against Dallas, Denver, Utah and Boston in the next two weeks.

But one only has to see that the Lakers responded to a double-digit loss Dec. 22 to Milwaukee with another clunker on Christmas Day against Miami. Interestingly enough, the Lakers' poor performance came after a 6-1 trip that spoke more about the team's inferior competition than any solid habits. To some degree, the Lakers' seven-game winning streak proved a tad misleading because the team's effort against New Orleans and New York only represented true measures on where they stand with the league's contending teams. With how the Lakers appeared woefully unprepared against Miami and San Antonio last month, it's hard to say where the Lakers measure up.

That doesn't mean the Lakers won't prove otherwise. There's just no reason to predict what the Lakers might do because, for better or worse, the only consistent pattern they've painted thus far is how inconsistent they are.

2. How will Ron Artest match up with Kevin Durant? 

Artest may not know it, but this game is a true measuring stick for him. He slimmed down to 250 pounds specifically with Durant in mind because of his belief that he couldn't keep up with Durant's quickness in the first round of the 2010 playoffs, though Durant averaged 25 points on 35% shooting in the series, a clear drop from his 30.1 points a game average on 47.6% shooting in the regular season.

Durant remains the league's leading scorer with 28.5 points, and Artest recently demonstrated in the Lakers' 99-92 loss Sunday to the Clippers that he didn't have the speed and footwork to keep up with guard Eric Gordon, who scored 30 points on 13-of-20 shooting.

It's conceivable that the Lakers might see the Thunder in the postseason again, so it's necessary to for Artest to use this matchup as a barometer on where he stands in his hope to strike a balance between playing physical and agile.

"Kevin Durant and all these guys are getting better. We're getting older, but they're getting better and older," Artest said Oct. 9 in training camp. "I didn't want to be 260, 270 [pounds] when I have to go up against the All-Stars."

3. Can the Lakers hold off the Thunder in transition?

Containing OKC was a concept the Lakers forever struggled with during the first-round matchup and it's an area the Clippers easily exploited with 21 fast-break points. The Lakers simply don't have the personnel to keep up with youthful teams, such as the Clippers and Thunder, with the OKC featuring Russell Westbrook (12th in scoring at 22.6 points a game), Serge Ibaka (averaging 26.1 minutes, 9.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in only his second season), Jeff Green and James Harden. A recipe for the Lakers to limit such possibilities points to their shot selection and rebounding. The Lakers' three-of-20 mark from three-point range (15%) and their 50-45 rebounding deficit largely led to the Clippers cashing in on the open floor. Playing at a more deliberate and disciplined pace can prevent the Thunder from doing the same thing.

4. Will the Lakers exploit OKC's dropoff on defense?

Lakers Coach Phil Jackson contended nothing's changed about the Thunder since they met last year in the playoffs. But The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry explains in great detail how Ron Adams' departure to Chicago has largely contributed to the team's regression in opponent points, opponent field-goal percentage, opponent 3-point field-goal percentage, blocked shots, opponent turnovers and defensive efficiency. That doesn't mean, however, the Lakers will suddenly face little resistance. In fact, the Thunder has indicated it plans to hand out 18 hard fouls against the Lakers to intimidate them from going inside and to force teams to cash in at the free-throw line. The Lakers didn't struggle from the stripe against the Clippers, but Pau Gasol has been the frontline's only reliably free throw shooter (82%), while Andrew Bynum (60%) and Lamar Odom (65%) have fared poorly.

Considering the Thunder, like most teams, don't have the size to counter the Lakers' front line, it's a much more valuable consolation to make them win at the free-throw line than in the paint. After all, Gasol (69.5%), Odom (73.2%) and Bynum (75.8%) are pretty much unstoppable at shots close to the rim, according to It could also prove to be an effective strategy, considering Gasol lately has shied away from physical play. It's misleading to continue the cliche that Gasol's soft (he's not), but he has lacked aggression and has remained passive when the team's crispness on offense has waned. It's led him to cut corners on defense and in overall effort, an area the Thunder could exploit even more if the Lakers don't handle the hard fouls well and convert at the free-throw line.

--Mark Medina

E-mail the Lakers blog at [email protected]

Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant drives to the basket against Thunder forward Jeff Green, left, and Nenad Krstic in Game 2 of the Western Conference playoffs. Credit: Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times.

The Times' Mike Bresnahan and Mark Medina tackle some Laker questions

The Lakers are officially underway. They're finally playing basketball, providing glimpses of how the roster might shape up and giving the fans of the L.A. Times' Lakers blog something to keep them from going insane (or so I hope).

But this is one game. As much as I detailed five things to take away from the Lakers' 111-92 loss Monday to the Minnesota Timberwolves, it's one exhibition game. I don't want to say my post was a waste of time to read and write, but you have to take it for what it is. The Lakers have seven remaining pre-season games and the ring ceremony/opening night isn't until Oct. 26 against Houston.

That leaves time for The Times' Mike Bresnahan and myself to dive into a few questions after the jump.

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Lakers don't want to feel comfortable with a 2-0 lead against Utah

With a three-day lapse between Games 2 and 3 in the Lakers' Western Conference semifinals matchup with Utah, the scenario provided a perfect time for the Lakers to take a day off on Wednesday. After all, in this season of injuries, Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom and Ron Artest could sure use the rest to heal up even if they have pledged to play through the pain.

Yet, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson has maintained a long-held fear that a day off from practice can lead to sluggishness the following day. Hence, Thursday's long practice, which mostly entailed work on transition defense and defensive rotations. And even with the Lakers being cautious with Bynum's lateral meniscus in his right knee, Bryant's sore right knee and Odom's sprained right knee and sore left shoulder, they all participated in practice.

"The day off is sometimes a disconnect," Jackson said, "and we just can't be disconnected during the playoffs."

The Lakers have a 2-0 lead against Utah heading into Game 3 Saturday, and they appear well on their way advancing past the Jazz rather easily for the third consecutive postseason. But there's plenty of reasons why Jackson and his team don't want to feel completely comfortable:

The Lakers had a 2-0 lead against Oklahoma City before allowing the Thunder to take two wins on their home court. The Lakers are 4-6 in their last 10 regular-season games at Salt Lake City's Energy Solutions Arena. In the last two playoff matchups, the Jazz took Game 3 in front of an electric and intense home crowd that's also partly responsible for a 32-9 regular-season home record. And Utah forward Andrei Kirilenko plans to play Saturday after missing 23 of the last 25 games because of a strained left calf muscle. Jackson described the versatile 6-foot-9 forward as "one of the most unique defenders in the league for his ability to block from behind and chasing guys on breaks." Kirilenko is expected to guard Kobe Bryant, and he says he's looking forward to the matchup.

But there are also plenty of reasons for the Lakers to like their chances. Though the Jazz didn't give up in Game 1 or Game 2, they have had no answer for the Lakers' size advantage in Bynum, Odom and Pau Gasol. Those three grabbed at least 10 rebounds apiece in Games 1 and 2, a feat that hasn't happened since the 1985 Portland team accomplished it in a playoff matchup against Dallas. Even before the day off, Bryant said his health has progressed tremendously, while Bynum hasn't appeared tentative while playing through an injury. And in their last meeting at Utah on Feb. 10, the Lakers coasted to a 96-81 victory without Bryant and Bynum in the lineup.

-- Mark Medina

Follow the L.A. Times Lakers blog on Twitter. E-mail the Lakers blog at [email protected]

Caught in the Web: Reactions to Lakers' 95-94 Game 6 victory over Oklahoma City


Game stories

--The Times' Mike Bresnahan details Pau Gasol's game-winning shot in the Lakers' 95-94 Game 6 victory Friday over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

--The Orange County Register's Kevin Ding relives how the Lakers delivered a knockout punch to OKC.

--The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry details the frustrations Thunder forward Kevin Durant felt after the Lakers eliminated OKC.'s Randy Renner details Gasol's late-game heroics.

--The Daily News' Elliott Teaford reports that the Lakers believe their competitive first-round series with Oklahoma City will ultimately benefit them beginning with their Western Conference semifinal matchup with the Utah Jazz.


--The Times' Bresnahan explains why Lakers Coach Phil Jackson considered Gasol the team's MVP toward the end of the season.

--The Times' Broderick Turner highlights the approach Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook took in Game 6.

--The Oklahoman's Mike Baldwin details how OKC tried to overcome a slow start.

--The Orange County Register's Ding reports Lakers center Andrew Bynum will have an MRI on Saturday to determine the extent of the damage on his hyperextended right knee.

--The Riverside Press Enterprise's Gregg Patton highlights the Lakers' strong history in closing out games.

--The Daily News' Teaford features Jackson's take on the Thunder's fan base and on LeBron James winning the league MVP.


--The Times' Bill Plaschke argues the Lakers don't have what it takes to beat the Orlando Magic or Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.

--The Times' Mark Heisler believes the Lakers' experience proved to be a huge factor in their first-round series with the Thunder.

--The Orange County Register's Ding believes Ron Artest made the difference in the Lakers' first-round series against Oklahoma City.'s Scott Howard-Cooper details the hurdles the Lakers had to overcome to win the series.

--Sports Illustrated's Frank Hughes gives his nuts-and-bolts breakdown of Game 6.

--ESPN Los Angeles Arash Markazi explains how Westbrook's fallen friend inspires him.

--ESPN Los Angeles Dave McMenamin argues the Lakers' defense made the difference against the Thunder.

--The Orange County Register's Jeff Miller argues the Lakers ruined the Thunder's fairy tale.

--The Riverside Press Enterprise's Patton says the Lakers did just enough to get the win.

--Fox Sports' Charley Rosen argues the Lakers featured many contributions.

--The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel believes the Thunder has a bright future.

--The Orange County Register's Randy Youngman gives his take on the speculation regarding Jackson's coaching future.

--Yahoo! Sports Adrian Wojnarowski argues Kobe Bryant delivered a stern message to the league that he'll maintain a dominant imprint on the game.


--The Daily Thunder enjoyed Oklahoma City's playoff run while it lasted.

--ESPN Los Angeles' Andy Kamenetzky credits the Lakers' bench

--Forum Blue and Gold's Darius breaks down the keys to the game.

--Silver Screen and Roll's C.A. Clark highlights Gasol's big moment.

Lakers-Jazz links

--The Times' Lisa Dillman details how the Jazz has gotten by without an injured Mehmet Okur.

--The Salt Lake City Tribune's Ross Siler explains why Utah has struggled recently against the Lakers. Siler also predicts the Lakers will take the series in six games.

Tweet of the Day: "The joys of traveling. Got to sleep at 230 am after lakers won up at 430 am for flight to LA. Then go to lakers practice at 130 pm." -- BA_Turner (L.A. Times Lakers beat reporter Broderick Turner).

Reader Comment of the Day: "A nail-biting series but the BEST TEAM moves on. A Colossal ending by KB and Gasol although it was clearly a TEAM victory and everyone showed some heart!!!! Kudos to the young Thunder because they put up a good fight but it was LAKERS Night!!!!" -- Carlos DeeP

--Mark Medina

Follow the L.A. Times Lakers blog on Twitter. E-mail the Lakers blog at [email protected]

Photo: Lakers power forward Pau Gasol and point guard Derek Fisher react after Gasol made the winning basket with less than a second to play against the Thunder in Game 6 on Friday night in Oklahoma City. Credit: Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times.

Lakers' 95-94 close-out victory over Oklahoma City features various contributions


With the clock winding down, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant brought the ball up the floor, and looked to fulfill a role many expect from him. The Lakers trailed by one in Game 6 against Oklahoma City with 14 seconds remaining, a game that may not bear season-ending consequences for the Lakers, but could end a series that featured many twists and turns along the way. And what better way to end it than having the Black Mamba orchestrate another game-winning shot.

As ESPN analyst Mark Jackson said as the game neared its final stages, "Put the ball in the best player on the floor's hands and live with the results." So with six seconds remaining, Bryant drove past Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook toward the near baseline. Bryant stopped short of the lane and squared up along the near post, pump faked and then pulled away for a fadeaway jumper. The shot rimmed out, but Lakers forward Pau Gasol grabbed the rebound and gave the Lakers a one-point lead with .5 seconds left. Following the timeout, Westbrook's missed three-pointer from the far corner made the Lakers' 95-94 series-clinching victory official, marking the third consecutive year the Lakers advanced past the first round of the playoffs, the team's seventh victory in the last eight close-out games and improving the team's record to 28-14 in close-out games during Bryant's 13-year career.

The last play perfectly served as a microcosm of the entire game. It featured plenty of heart-beating moments. The result proved unpredictable. And the Lakers managed to stave off a loud and blue Oklahoma City crowd because of various contributions. So it was only fitting that on a play that appeared to mark Bryant's seventh game-winner this season, Gasol helped recover from Bryant's missed shot. Gasol had only nine points on four of 11 shooting, but finished with 18 rebounds, including the last one that ultimately decided the game. 

Bryant's conversation with Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant and guard Westbrook dealt with the long-term future. "I told them they were incredible basketball players, for them to keep working and they're going to be a team we're going to have to deal with for years to come," Bryant told ESPN's Lisa Salters, which perfectly summed up the Lakers' highly competitive six-game series against the youthful and athletic Thunder.

Gasol's immediate reaction after his game-winning putback revealed the Lakers' short-term future as they meet the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference semifinals, with Game 1 beginning Sunday at Staples Center. As soon as the shot went in, Gasol roared, approached Lakers guard Derek Fisher (11 points on four of eight shooting) at the top of the key, chest bumped him and briefly locked arms. Though the Lakers' Game 6 performance didn't replicate their sheer Game 5 dominance and more appropriately demonstrated how they had to claw and survive their way through the first round, the late-game heroics and the various contributions are two entities that surely can bring the team closer together and play even sharper beginning in the semifinals.

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Dissecting Ron Artest's improved shooting in Lakers' Game 5 111-87 victory over Oklahoma City


Lakers forward Ron Artest had shot the ball so poorly that it overshadowed the imposing defense he's provided. Artest had shot the ball so poorly that Lakers Coach Phil Jackson expressed uncertaintyon whether Artest would ever find his shooting stroke. And Artest had shot the ball so poorly that Jackson admitted before Game 5 of the Lakers-Oklahoma City first-round series that the coaching staff had started imposing limits on his shot selection.

"We asked him to limit his threes from the corner," Jackson said. "I think that’s one of the things he can eliminate. I know he'll take one anyway tonight, but that’s Ron."

That in fact he did, but this time the shot went in the basket, and Artest scored 14 points on six-for-11 shooting in the Lakers' 111-87 Game 5 victory Tuesday over the  Thunder. This was a welcome development considering Artest had shot 12 for 40 in the first four games of the series, and continued his season-long theme of  either adding little to the offensive flow or disrupting it with ill-advised shots. Artest contended he didn't change anything, but the tape shows he took a more active approach in being involved in the offense and creating opportunities by working the post. Below is a breakdown on what he did in Game 5 to become a better offensive threat.

First quarter, :25 - 12.4

On the near side of the court,  Lamar Odom set a high screen on Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook for  Kobe Bryant. Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha switched, marking Odom in the near post. But Odom immediately cut across the lane, prompting Artest to cut over to the near side to post up. He didn't get firm positioning, however, so Bryant passed the ball to  forward Pau Gasoljust above the free-throw line. Gasol then passed it  back to Bryant before setting up a screen-and-roll on Thunder forward Kevin Durant. As Bryant drove the lane, Gasol flashed to the post and Artest cut out to  the perimeter on the near side.  Bryant passed the ball to Odom in the far corner. Odom immediately passed the ball at the top of the key to  guard Shannon Brown, who pump faked, drove above the free-throw line and then passed to Artest. He nailed the open three-pointer, giving the Lakers a 31-16  lead. This play wasn't simply a product of Artest's making a shot he normally misses. He had gotten in rhythm by trying to run through the post, and the team allowed the opportunities to open up by running the triangle offense.

Second quarter, 4:53 - 4:40

Odom pushed the ball up the floor after rebounding  Westbrook's missed free throw. After feeding an entry pass  to Gasol, Odom cut across the lane and set a screen on Thunder forward Jeff Green. Artest curled off the screen and received a pass in the paint from Gasol. Artest immediately went up for the left-handed layup, giving the Lakers a 41-23 lead.

Second quarter, 3:51 - 3:46

Artest received a pass from Derek Fisher  at the near side of the court just above the free-throw line. In triple-threat position, Artest dribbled left and looked to Gasol posting inside. But Thunder center Nenad Krstic played Gasol up too high, effectively creating an open lane along the baseline. Artest drove through the lane and then posterized Sefolosha with the one-handed dunk, increasing the Lakers' cushion to 45-27.

Third quarter, 9:22 - 9:17

Bryant drove past Sefolosha but  met some heavy traffic in the lane. In midair, Bryant kicked the ball out to Artest in the corner. He made a three-pointer, giving the Lakers a 65-39 lead. This wasn't anything extraordinary that the Lakers did, just  Bryant showing his great court vision and Artest  knocking down an open shot.

Third quarter, 4:34 - 4:27

With Odom directing the offense at the top of the key, Artest cut across the baseline and flashed to the near side on the perimeter. Sefolosha slid to him, but Artest drove right and pulled up to make a 21-footer, giving the Lakers a 79-47 advantage.

Third quarter, 3:25 - 3:16 

After passing the ball to Odom in the far post, Artest cut across the lane and set a down screen for Gasol, who immediately received a pass from Odom inside. Gasol pulled up for a short jumper, but his lift and release were off, resulting in an airball. But Artest grabbed the ball and converted a layup, widening the gap to  81-53.

What this means

This isn't a matter of Artest suddenly finding his shooting stroke. Sure, he went two of four from three-point range, but Artest's improved shooting numbers in Game 5 had more to do with the fact that he appeared more involved with the offense. There were a lot of times Artest would stand in the corner, perhaps afraid that any movement he'd perform would disrupt the offense. And the defenses gave him that space, knowing he wouldn't often make the shot. All of Artest's field goals happened after penetration, showing he took a more active role in helping the offense run its course. It's perhaps another argument for why the Lakers should put heavy emphasis on ball movement and penetration because it elevates everyone's offensive capabilities, including Artest's.

--Mark Medina

Follow the L.A. Times Lakers blogon Twitter. E-mail the Lakers blog at [email protected]

Photo: Lakers forward Ron Artest makes it difficult for Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant to drive in Game 5 on Tuesday night. Credit: Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times.



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