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Posts Tagged ‘New York Knicks’

Morning shootaround — March 25


VIDEO: Highlights from Thursday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs come out flat vs. Nets | George injures leg vs. Pacers | Gibson ’embarassed’ by Bulls’ recent losses

No. 1: Cavs come out flat in loss to Nets — Some nights in the NBA, it’s just not your night — no matter how good your team may be. At a cursory glance, that might be the storyline as the Eastern Conference-leading Cleveland Cavaliers lost on the road to the Eastern Conference cellar-dwelling Brooklyn Nets, 104-95. Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com was on hand for the defeat and notes that despite an otherworldly performance from LeBron James, the Cavs showed troubling signs in the loss:

On Thursday evening at Barclays Center, the rebuilding, interim coach-led 20-win Brooklyn Nets defeated a disinterested, lifeless Central Division champion Cleveland Cavaliers squad 104-95.

“Tonight we took a step backwards and we can’t afford to do that late in the season like this,” James said after scoring 30 points on 13-of-16 from the field. He converted his first 11 field goals and was a nightmare to deal with as he got inside the paint whenever he wanted.

He was asked if he took what the defense gave him.

“It’s what I took,” he quickly replied. “They didn’t give me anything. That’s what I took.”

It’s too bad James’ moody, locked-in demeanor didn’t rub off on his teammates. Excluding his performance, the rest of the Cavaliers shot 36.6 percent from the field and was 10-of-38 from the arc. Cleveland was down nine with 2:01 remaining and could not find the basket for the life of them. Before Jordan McRae made a meaningless three-pointer with nine seconds left, the Cavaliers had missed 10 straight shots and mustered all of nine points in the period.

Kevin Love (11) was 5-of-14 and had a dreadful 0-5 outing from long distance while Kyrie Irving (13 points) missed 16 of his 22 shots. For the second time in less than a week, he skipped out on speaking to the media.

Bad shooting nights happen and it’s excused. But what isn’t excusable is lacking a professional approach. Despite head coach Tyronn Lue urging his team to not take the court with a complacent attitude, that’s exactly what occurred.

They came out lackadaisical and entitled. Their passes weren’t zipped, but rather floated and telegraphed. What was supposed to be hard cuts to the basket looked like pre-game walk-through drills. Lue walked away from his postgame presser disgusted with how his team performed.

“If we don’t compete for 48 minutes, things like this will continue to happen,” he said.

“I started my postseason mindset a little early this year, understanding everything we’ve been through this year both on and off the floor,” James said. “I just want these guys to understand how important this moment is. We have a great opportunity to do something special, at least compete for something special.”

There’s a sad truth. In the three games Love has sat out this month, the Cavaliers have outscored their opponents by an average of 23.3 points. Moreover, opposing point guards seem to have a field day when going up against Irving.

Shane Larkin entered the game averaging six points and four assists, but left the arena with 16 points, seven assists and was 7-of-10 from the floor. It’s a trend that keeps repeating with quick guards against Irving.

“What bothers me is our effort sometimes and making sure our guys are understanding the moment that we have,” James said. “And that’s the only time I can get a little frustrated because I understand the moment that we have and it’s not a given that every year you have a team like this where you have an opportunity to do something special.”

Time is running out.

Flipping the switch seems like a dubious path to victory. There have been too many bad losses. Over time, it’s a pattern, and patterns are hard to break.


VIDEO: LeBron James says the Cavs ‘took a step backwards’ on Thursday

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Morning shootaround — March 19


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wade at another career crossroads | Crowder’s absence costing Celtics | Portland avoids “sickening” loss | Frye shows value, quietly and from distance

No. 1: Wade at another career crossroads — You can find plenty of advance coverage on this site to whet your appetite for Saturday night’s Big Game. But there’s another big game that starts an hour earlier pitting two rivals from the other conference – Cleveland at Miami (7:30 p.m. ET, League Pass) – and the Miami Herald’s Ethan Skolnick provides a window into that one with his column on Heat veteran Dwyane Wade and his team’s need for a Wade resurgence during this March Madness portion of their schedule:

“I haven’t been into the best rhythm since the All-Star break that I want to be in,” said Wade, who shot 45.8 percent before the break, and 39.4 percent since. “I’ve had some good games scoring, but I haven’t been into a great rhythm.”

He cited some initial rust, and the need to adapt to all of the team’s iterations. He noted how this is the fourth incarnation of the Heat this season. First, Wade and Chris Bosh and Goran Dragic were the primary ball-handlers. Then Dragic got hurt, and it was Wade and Bosh.

“Chris goes out, now it’s a different kind of team,” Wade said. “Joe [Johnson] comes in, and Chris is out, and Goran is in, and now it’s a different kind of team. These are all the different kind of adjustments you’ve got to make.”

He doesn’t intend these as excuses, but explanations. “Just got to figure it out,” Wade said. “Me and Coach [Erik Spoelstra] talked about some things and areas on the floor that I can get to, that can put me in a better rhythm. The biggest thing is early.”

As in him attacking earlier in possessions.

However he finds his rhythm this late in the season, it’s a requirement that he does.

No matter how many other options have emerged on this revamped roster, the Heat won’t be winning anything of significance this postseason (whether games or rounds) if its most battle-tested playoff performer is off.

It certainly wouldn’t be capable of seriously challenging Saturday’s opponent, LeBron James and the Cavaliers, without an efficient, dynamic Wade, not when Bosh will likely be watching, and not even as the Cavaliers continue to constantly challenge themselves, with a never-ending series of self-inflicted controversies.

It has seemed like the Heat’s stealth strategy has been to wait in the weeds, steel itself amid adversity and position itself to steal the conference crown if the Cavaliers — through ball-hogging, eye-rolling and sub-tweeting — start coming apart.

Certainly, that could still occur, with James seeming at a career crossroads of sorts himself, if more as a leader than a player. Through photos and comments on social media, the four-time MVP has come off as forlorn and frustrated, making no secret that he misses sharing the court and the locker room with a peer of Wade’s status and strength.

Miami probably won’t get Wade from early in James’ time here either, not at age 34. But the one from before the All-Star break will suffice. Wade has already proven plenty this season, starting with his increased availability; he will play his 63rd game Saturday, one more than last season. He insisted his thigh, recently bruised, isn’t bothering him.

“Just got to play the game, man, and continue to do what you’ve always done,” Wade said. “And eventually it will turn.”

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 No. 2: Crowder’s absence costing Celtics — It’s not likely to earn Celtics forward Jae Crowder many votes on NBA Most Valuable Player ballots, but Boston’s 0-3 slump since the Marquette product suffered a high ankle sprain last week has highlighted Crowder’s individual value within his team’s ensemble approach. Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com examined that after the Celtics’ loss to Eastern Conference rival Toronto:

The Celtics, who held a comfy lead on the third seed two weeks ago, have slipped all the way to No. 6 in the East, a half-game behind both the Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat and a game back of the Atlanta Hawks. What Stevens said two weeks ago is actually true now: Boston is four games away from ninth place.

With only 13 games left in the regular season, it remains highly unlikely that the Celtics could fall much further, but given the injuries they’re battling and the poor brand of basketball they are playing, it’s understandable why some might be leery.

“We have to change something up,” Celtics All-Star Isaiah Thomas told reporters in Toronto. “We got ourselves back into [Friday’s] game, so we showed signs of playing like we know how, but a good team like the Raptors you can’t just play one good quarter.”

Make no mistake, the Celtics are in the midst of a brutally tough stretch, exacerbated by the fact that they lost Jae Crowder to a high ankle sprain last Friday, and one of the players expected to help fill his shoes, Jonas Jerebko, missed the past two games with a left foot injury

Despite visiting a Raptors team that was playing its fourth game in five nights and was coming off an overtime win in Indiana on Thursday, the Celtics let Toronto build a big first-half lead, then didn’t have enough energy themselves to sustain a second-half rally.

The Celtics miss Crowder more than most expected, in part because Boston’s depth at the swingman spot is so thin. What’s more, with Crowder starting the first 66 games of the season, it was not obvious just how much of a drop-off there would be without him.

And while Crowder might be Boston’s best two-way player, the team really seems to miss his swagger and intensity. Boston simply looks tentative, and that may be why there’s an uneasiness in playing with a makeshift rotation in which players called upon to fill larger roles have struggled to rise to the challenge.

Second-year guard Marcus Smart initially elevated to Crowder’s starting small forward role, but with Smart stuck in a bit of a shooting slump, Stevens elected to shake things up a bit on Friday by moving Evan Turner into the starting lineup.

The Raptors — and Luis Scola in particular — shot so well at the start of the game that Boston’s starters were minus-13 in six minutes of floor time. The Celtics, tied for the fourth-best defensive rating in the league while allowing 100.7 points per 100 possessions, saw their first unit allow an offensive rating of 210 over the first six minutes of the first quarter.

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No. 3:  Portland avoids “sickening” loss — Fans of the Portland Trail Blazers understandably were upset about Kendrick Perkins‘ dangerous clotheslining foul on guard Damian Lillard early in the fourth quarter Friday, a play that got Perkins ejected and put Lillard down hard in New Orleans. But Lillard himself and his teammates were grateful afterward to escape with a victory that, had the Pelicans completed their comeback, might have left the Blazers feeling like they’d left the French Quarter having had way too much to drink and eat. Mike Richman of The Oregonian was there:

As Damian Lillard walked back out on to the court with 1:23 left in the game he glanced up at the scoreboard and started to feel an uneasiness deep in his gut.

“I remember walking out of a timeout and thinking, ‘Man if we lose this game, I am going to be sick. I’m going to be sick about this,'” Lillard said. “After I had that thought, I decided we wasn’t going to lose this game.”

The Blazers flirted with a devastating collapse against the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night, blowing a 20-point lead and falling behind late in the fourth quarter, before pulling out a crucial, 117-112, win at Smoothie King Center.

It wasn’t just that the Blazers almost coughed up a huge lead. The Pelicans played the entire second half without All-Star forward Anthony Davis and the Blazers were in danger of losing three straight games to open a four-game trip. With all that in the background, dropping this game would have rightfully made Lillard ill

“It was truly a test,” Lillard said. “I think that’s the best word to describe it. Coming off two tough losses against OKC and San Antonio and then coming out tonight we played with urgency for most of the game. We were locked in.”

Portland’s offense struggled in the fourth quarter and New Orleans first took the lead on back-to-back three-pointers from guard Jrue Holiday, putting the Pelicans up 105-102 with just over three minutes remaining.

Then after the Blazers knocked down three free throws to go back up one, former Blazer Tim Frazier hit a pull-up jumper to give New Orleans a 107-106 edge with 2:13 left.

“They started really believing and playing with a lot of pace and confidence,” Lillard said. “I think we were down by two with under a minute and it was like, ‘It’s really gut check time'”

After the teams traded empty possessions, the Blazers took a timeout with just under 90 seconds left. Lillard told himself in the huddle he wouldn’t let the Blazers lose and then the star point guard made good on his declaration.

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No. 4: Frye shows value, quietly and from distance — Might as well lick your index finger and hold it up to the sky to know which way the wind is blowing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who change directions and shift moods as if with the weather. But in the wake of their victory over Orlando, veteran forward Channing Frye – Cleveland’s notable trade-deadline acquisition – looked to have found a helpful role, whether it lasts or not. Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com chronicled Frye’s satisfying performance (14 points) against his former team in the Magic Kingdom and its meaning for Cleveland:

The Frye acquisition has been fruitful for the Cavs, who gave up two future second-round picks for Frye, and also took on the $15 million left on his contract. After drilling 4-for-6 3-pointers Friday, Frye is 25-for-50 from 3-point range in 12 games with the Cavs. It’s the sort of catch-and-shoot big man play that is extremely effective with the team’s other personnel.

“I know he feels good about that,” said LeBron James, who scored 18 points and didn’t keep up the ruse either. “This was definitely for him. He showed up and showed why he’s a valuable part to our team now.”

Frye’s reputation defensively is not strong, but the numbers don’t totally bear that out. Frye ranks No. 4 among all power forwards in real plus-minus, just behind teammate Kevin Love. And Cavs coach Tyronn Lue went with Frye over Love in the fourth quarter as the Cavs executed a comeback.

Truth be told, the Cavs sort of acted as if they knew they could beat a ragtag Magic team with just a half effort, [Victor] Oladipo‘s performance notwithstanding, and move on to a more appetizing game in Miami on Saturday night. This essentially played out as they had dominant shifts during the second quarter and the fourth and it was all that was needed to beat the Magic, who are 10-26 since Jan. 1.

It’s equally a mystery as to whether Fyre’s growing role is real and lasting or just a blip. It was just a few weeks ago that Lue played Frye only 10 minutes over the course of four games. Making a proclamation on anything with this Cavs team is a path to folly, at least to this point.

But Frye will always have this one. The team that signed him to a four-year, $32 million deal in 2014 — and started looking to trade him just a year into it — had to watch him play the role they once envisioned for him.

“When I came [to Orlando], I thought we could kind of resemble the Phoenix style, not necessarily score 120 points, but fast-paced, spread you out and move the rock around. It just didn’t work out like that,” Frye said.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Memphis, despite suffering significant blowouts (2-9 in games decided by 18 points or more), has managed to stay afloat in the grueling West. How? Our John Schuhmann breaks down numbers that reveal the Grizzlies’ resiliency in close games. … ICYMI: Scott Howard-Cooper from right here at NBA.com, in advance of the big Warriors-Spurs game, analyzed Golden State’s end game and how getting whole might conflict with the pursuit of 73 victories. … Carmelo Anthony says he has no idea yet what will happen this summer with his New York Knicks and, naturally, that generates headlines for a tabloid. … If you’re going to feel sorry for Melo in his current Knicks plight, save a little sympathy for Brooklyn’s Thaddeus Young, who has endured more than his share of losing in nine NBA seasons. … John Wall is turning over the ball too often and the Wizards point guard knows it. … Lakers coach Byron Scott would love to see Brandon Bass stick with the team next season for his veteran influence and timely contributions, but the ball most definitely will be in Bass’ court. … Russell Westbrook, in one fell swoop, has done something that surpasses both Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain. … Trey Schwab spent six years working with the Minnesota Timberwolves and, before that, grew tight with former NBA coaches Flip Saunders and Eric Musselman during their time together in the CBA. Those NBA roots are enough to merit inclusion here of a story, long on NCAA tournament flavor, about Schwab’s special relationship with Indiana University coach Tom Crean. Get well, Trey. … And finally, this shout-out to the NBA’s senior “Professor” …

Analytics Art: Why Towns is dominating Rookie of Year chase


VIDEO: Karl-Anthony Towns named February’s Rookie of the Month

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

Minnesota Timberwolves No. 1 overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns has established himself as perhaps the most clear-cut favorite to claim the 2016 Kia Rookie of the Year Award. And while New York Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis made things interesting early on — and gained a cult following in the Big Apple — the consistent play from Towns has made him a lock for the trophy.

All season, Towns has stuffed the box score, amassing 39 double-doubles to lead all rookies in that department by a massive margin. He has more than twice as many double-doubles as the No. 2 player, Porzingis.

In fact, Towns is 6th in the NBA in double-doubles (39) — behind Andre Drummond, Russell Westbrook, DeAndre Jordan, DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall. From Jan. 25 through Feb. 19, Towns rattled off 10 straight double-doubles in a stretch of reliability rarely seen from a rookie.

Of course, Towns’ numbers go far beyond comparisons to All-Star-caliber players in the game today. By averaging at least 17 points, 10 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.5 blocks this season, Towns would become the first rookie since 1999-2000 — and sixth in NBA history — to post those figures.

Those numbers put Towns in company with former MVPs. Finals MVPs and championship-winners (Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan and David Robinson) as well with two former All-Stars (Ralph Sampson and Elton Brand).

But while you could argue Towns’ scoring figures are inflated because of his role on a rebuilding roster, that’s simply not true. The big man has been masterfully efficient, shooting 54.5 percent overall — and 34.4 percent on 3-pointers — while shooting at above league-average rates from mid-range all season.

There’s little doubt Towns has the inside track to win Rookie of the Year Award. As the stats above show not-so-subtly, his coronation is near an absolute certainty. The Timberwolves have a new face of their franchise. The challenge now will be surrounding him with the right pieces to compete in the Western Conference.

This article was originally published on PointAfter, a partner of NBA.com.

Ben Leibowitz (https://twitter.com/BenLebo) is a writer for PointAfter (http://www.pointafter.com), a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network (http://www.graphiq.com). Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA Players (http://basketball-players.pointafter.com)NBA Historical Teams (http://nba-historical-teams.pointafter.com) and dozens of other topics.

Blogtable: What should Knicks do in free agency?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: State of Karl-Cousins relationship? | Knicks’ free-agency plan is ___? |
Agree with Davidson’s decision to not retire Curry’s jersey?



VIDEOThe Starters on the state of the Knicks

> Carmelo Anthony says the Knicks “gotta do something” in free agency. What should that “something” be?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comPay out a maximum-salary contract to an aging star who needs the ball and mostly plays only one end of the floor. Wait, what? Oh yeah, the Knicks did that in 2014 when they re-upped ‘Melo. Here’s what the Knicks need to do: Get Anthony to sign a loyalty oath accepting his spot in the pecking order, henceforth and forthwith, as the team’s third-best player. Then procure as No. 1 or No. 2 to align with Porzingis, and rely on Anthony as a volume scorer and closer but not as the tent-pole guy anymore. That — and dialed-up defense — would have a chance at climbing in the East.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Trade Carmelo Anthony and start building all over the right way around Kristaps Porzingis and more young talent. There are no shortcuts. ‘Melo and the Knicks should know that by now — they have tried all of them.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Something for the long term. The Knicks have the chance to build something for the long term, with Kristaps Porzingis and the strong possibility of another lottery pick as starting points. The free agents they add should work for the long term, not for the quick fix that might get them into the first round. That’s probably not what a veteran like Anthony wants to hear.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I don’t know what the Knicks “gotta” do but I know what they shouldn’t: Make a rash decision based on desperation and buy another Jon Koncak. Even with a rise in cap room they should spend wisely and understand, despite Melo’s urging, this is a gradual process and unless Kevin Durant wants in, there are no shortcuts. ‘Melo’s not worth panicking over. He’s not going anywhere, unless he wants to, and then I gladly make a deal.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Figure out where Anthony wants to be traded. The Knicks probably aren’t going to get the free agents they need to compete for a top 3 or 4 spot in the East, and Anthony will 32 years old in May. He’s already lost trade value, it will only go down from here, and teams that are closer to a championship will have the cap space to take on his contract. They Knicks should try to get some building blocks in return, look at a realistic, 3-5 year plan for contending for a championship, and move on. ‘Melo could help get another team over the hump, but the Knicks aren’t building a contender around him.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Phil Jackson coaching home games only next season is certainly not the “something” Carmelo is talking about. The Knicks need a measured approach to what they do next. Their personnel staff should have spent this season studying potential free agents of every stripe (not just the marquee names), and figure out who the guys are that can thrive in the isosceles triangle offense Phil insists on using. They have two sound pieces to build around in Carmelo and Kristaps Porzingis, so a desperation move — overpaying someone with a name but a game that doesn’t fit — is exactly what they don’t need this summer. I know Carmelo’s clock is ticking, but he has to be patient if they’re going to get it right in New York.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: It should be something smart. By this time next year we’re going to be saying that Porzingis is potentially the best player to ever team up with Carmelo. With two stars locked in at the forward positions, the Knicks absolutely must hire a coach worthy of commanding Anthony’s respect. This quality is more important than any knowledge of the triangle offense. The Knicks have a few high-level years to squeeze out of their best player, and that time cannot be wasted on an ideological pursuit. Give ‘Melo a boss in whom he can believe. Hire Tom Thibodeau, sign complementary free agents who will feed a winning mentality and aim for nothing less than the Eastern Conference semifinals next season – these are all reachable goals.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog The Knicks still need to improve at several positions, including their bench, but to me the primary need is a point guard with the quickness to penetrate on offense and defensively keep up with other quicker guards. So at midnight on the first day of free agency, Phil Jackson should call Mike Conley and, if Conley’s not taking calls, perhaps someone like Brandon Jennings. To be clear, no one player is going suddenly make the Knicks champs again, but the point guard slot is where the Knicks can make an immediate impact.

Morning shootaround — March 16


VIDEO: Highlights from Tuesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Spurs get into playoff mode | Anthony: ‘Phil ain’t coaching no more’Gallinari ‘weeks away’ from return to Nuggets’ lineup

No. 1: Spurs settling into playoff mode — It’s hard to say the season to date has been anything but a success for the San Antonio Spurs. They’ve won 42 straight games at home dating back to last season, lead the NBA in Net Rating (13.5) and, at 57-10, have the league’s second-best record (trailing only the 60-6 Golden State Warriors). Last night, they pulled away from the Los Angeles Clippers in a 108-87 victory that further states the Spurs’ case as a true contender. Michael C. Wright of ESPN.com was on hand and has more on how San Antonio is shifting into its postseason gear:

When San Antonio downed the Los Angeles Clippers 108-87 on Tuesday to capture its 33rd consecutive victory this season at the AT&T Center, the Spurs held a one-point advantage entering the fourth quarter before David West and Patty Mills combined for 15 points to lead an onslaught in which they outscored the visitors 37-17 in the final 12 minutes. That allowed them to post their 20th win by 20 points or more, which ranks as the most in the NBA.

So as the Spurs trend toward postseason form, guard Manu Ginobili still believes there are “so many things” the team needs to improve, which makes film sessions with coach Gregg Popovich interesting to say the least.

“Once you listen to Pop dissecting the video, you think, ‘Wow, we could be really good. I mean, we are making all these mistakes, and we’re the best defensive team in the league,’” Ginobili joked. “I think [in] the playoffs, that determination … sometimes in the 70th game or the 58th, you’re a little relaxed and you have sort of a cushion. So hopefully, when we need those wins, everybody’s gonna be very focused and we can improve a little more. I think overall on this stretch, we’ve been very good.”

San Antonio remains undefeated in its latest stretch, having played three games in six days at home against the Chicago Bulls, Thunder and Clippers. The club closes out the homestand with outings Thursday and Saturday against the Portland Trail Blazers and the Golden State Warriors.

“It’s very important,” Ginobili said. “You always want to test yourself against the best. This week, we’ve had the Thunder, the Clippers, the Blazers, the Warriors too. So it’s a very important week, and we want to do good. You can lose a game. That’s not the point. We want to get better. We want to match up against everybody and see how we react. The first 50 games of the season, we hadn’t been successful against the best teams. So we need these types of wins, and they’re happening.”

Kawhi Leonard’s play ranks as one of the major reasons the Spurs have trailed a total of just 9 minutes, 37 seconds in 396 minutes played in the fourth quarter this season at the AT&T Center.

“It was great,” Popovich said of Leonard’s performance. “Obviously [Leonard’s] length and his ability to guard a number of people, but I think it was a good change up for [Paul] to see something different.”

Added Ginobili: “Now we are used to it. So we are spoiled. Our best offensive player is our best defensive player, too. He’s young. He’s hungry. He’s talented, physically very gifted, and he can do it all. It’s no secret that’s one of the main reasons we have 85 percent wins. He’s been amazing.”

Others seem to have followed suit. Entering the matchup against the Clippers, new addition LaMarcus Aldridge put together seven consecutive outings in which he produced 20 points or more, averaging 25.3 points over that span to go with 10.3 rebounds and 1.43 blocks while hitting 57.5 percent from the field. Aldridge contributed 17 points and six rebounds against the Clippers.

It’s clear the adjustment “process” Aldridge described earlier in the season has finally come to a close, aided by a stretch in late January and early February in which Tim Duncan was forced to miss eight games due to knee soreness. Duncan’s absence accelerated Aldridge’s acclimation.

“It’s a subjective thing, but I think it’s logical to think that may have been a little bit of a catalyst where he realized he had to do some things, and there wasn’t anybody else to defer to as far as bigs are concerned,” Popovich said. “That probably had a little bit to do with it. But it’s also been a process where he’s become more comfortable in the offense; catching it in different places than he was used to. And it was a process for me, too; to give him the ball more in places that he was used to. So a little bit of both. Then, as time went on, his confidence level went up. When he would miss shots, he would realize that we don’t care. We care if you don’t shoot it when you’re open. If you miss them, we don’t care. We can’t control that.”

“Yeah, it’s the big picture and everyone is on the same page with that goal, understanding we’ve got a much bigger picture that we’re looking at, and these are just little examples throughout the way that are good for our development,” Mills said. “This stretch of games is good for us this time of year.”

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Morning shootaround — March 15


VIDEO: Highlights from Monday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs deny lack of composure in loss | Bogut blasts his ‘dirty’ label | Bosh surprises Heat, sits on bench vs. Nuggets | Anthony: Knicks ‘gotta do something’ this summer

No. 1: Cavs deny lack of composure in loss to Jazz — The Cleveland Cavaliers entered Salt Lake City on a roll, having won three straight on the road as they closed out a four-game West coast road swing. With news that the Jazz would be without leading scorer Gordon Hayward (plantar fasciitis) on Monday, the Cavs were seen as even bigger favorites to win. Yet Cleveland couldn’t contain Rodney Hood and Derrick Favors as Utah won 94-85 in a chippy game at times. Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com says although things got physical in Salt Lake City last night, the Cavs do not feel they lost their composure at any point:

A quick glance at the Cavs’ 94-85 loss to the Utah Jazz, and it would seem some composure issues surfaced.

To wit:

  • The Cavs were whistled for three technical fouls, including two on Channing Frye. The third was on, you guessed it, J.R. Smith.
  • Frye headbutted and took a quasi-swing at Utah’s Trey Lyles with 3:57 left in the game and the Cavs trailing by 11. Lyles probably deserved it – he elbowed Frye in the groin and, like Frye, was also tossed from the game.
  • Frye refused to address reporters afterwards.
  • LeBron James and Kyrie Irving were bickering at each other during a timeout with 10:07 left in the third quarter. Some defensive miscues allowed the Jazz to go up by nine, and Irving missed a 3-pointer. He was 3-of-12 shooting at that point.
  • The James-Irving session carried on for several seconds, and both sides had their say.
  • Irving, who shot 7-of-23 for the game, went back onto the court here for about 30 minutes of extra shooting.

When it was all over, as in, the game, the Cavs’ three-game winning streak, this four-game trip out West, and Irving’s apparent therapy session, there were mostly shrugs from the Cavs.

“I don’t look at it as a step back,” said James, who led the Cavs with 23 points and 12 rebounds. “I’ve always said we’ve still got room to improve, and this is another example of it. I don’t think it’s a step backwards.”

Of Frye’s aggression toward Lyles, James said “I loved it.” This was perhaps more interesting because Lyles, a rookie, is represented by agent Rich Paul, James’ agent. James typically doesn’t speak ill of the family.

“It’s nothing personal against Trey, it’s the game and (Frye) being able to stick up for himself,” James said. “But I love that side.”

Last season, Irving scored 34 points but registered zero assists in Cleveland’s game at Utah. That kind of box score infuriated James. On Monday, Irving tallied three assists.

“We want him to be aggressive, for sure,” James said. “We want him to read and react, and however he’s feeling, we want him to be aggressive and take his shot when he has it. I know he had a lot of great looks tonight. I know he doesn’t like his performance and he’ll be better.”

Irving said the dust-up with James was really a defensive “miscommunication between me and Mozzy (Timofey Mozgov).”

“That’s it,” Irving said. “Me and ‘Bron were talking about it.”


VIDEO: LeBron James talks after the Cavs’ loss in Utah

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Morning shootaround – March 13


VIDEO: The Fast Break — March 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Spurs clinch SouthwestWarriors win without Iguodala | Kyrie ready to “step up” | Grizz lose Conley, Andersen

No. 1: Spurs clinch Southwest — At this point we shouldn’t be surprised: The Spurs just win games. Some of the tertiary players might change, but the principals remain the same: Pop, Timmy, Tony, Manu. And last night in San Antonio, the Spurs did it again, coming from behind to beat Oklahoma City and clinch another Southwest Division title. As our Fran Blinebury writes, the Spurs just keep winning…

In a game when Danny Green took 10 shots and missed nine of them, it was the only one that mattered.

When Russell Westbrook gambled to come up with a steal, LaMarcus Aldridge found Green standing in the right corner, just the right place at just the right time.

There was only one thing to do and Green did it.

“He’s a pro and we made it very clear to him there’s only two outcomes,” said coach Gregg Popovich. “It goes in or it doesn’t, but he still gets his paycheck, his family still loves him. So screw it, let ’em fly. And he did.”

The Spurs won 93-85 on Saturday night in part because Green’s shot broke the last tie and broke the Thunder, but on the whole because the Spurs keep learning more and more about exactly who they can become.

Five months ago in the season opener at Oklahoma City, Aldridge, the new free-agent addition, might as well have been a lost puppy chasing his tail.

“I didn’t know my role, I was trying to find shots,” Aldridge said. “I think I took (12) shots that game. So it was very uncomfortable. I thought tonight was night and day [different] for sure.”

On the other hand, the Spurs are night and day the same, week after week, month after month, season after season.

They don’t get rocked, they roll. They don’t get shaken, only stirred.

This is how you keep doing what they do, pushing, grinding, forging an identity as the most solid, the most consistent, the best professional franchise in sports over the past two decades.

The win pushed the Spurs to a perfect 32-0 at the AT&T Center this season and they have now won 41 consecutive regular-season home games dating back exactly a year to March 12, 2015. They had already wrapped up a 55-win season for the 19th time in club history, trailing only the Lakers franchise (20) on the all-time NBA list. By beating the Thunder, they clinched another Southwest Division title and officially clinched home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

The advanced learning process continues, of course, because for all they have accomplished, the Spurs are still somehow looking up at Golden State in the standings.

It’s not the sheer numbers or the volume of pages they continue to fill up in the history books that keeps impressing. It’s the way they keep right on doing it as they evolve.

Here was a night when Tony Parker (0-for-4) went without a field goal for the first time in eight years, when Manu Ginobili (0-for-3) only scratched with a pair of free throws and Tim Duncan made just two shots after the first quarter. And yet the Spurs pulled it out and pulled away down the stretch.

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No. 2: Warriors win without Iguodala — Hours after the Golden State Warriors found out they’ll be without star sixth man Andre Iguodala for at least a few weeks, the Warriors got put to the test by the lowly Phoenix Suns. No Iguodala? No problem, writes Rusty Simmons from the San Francisco Chronicle, as the Warriors rallied behind Stephen Curry to remain perfect at home and push their record to league-best 59-6…

Curry finished with a game-high 35 points, 15 in the fourth quarter, after having to sit out most of the third quarter with foul trouble. Steve Kerr considered bringing Curry back with two or three minutes remaining in the third quarter, but he decided to wait until the start of the fourth — after the Warriors had watched an 11-point, first-half lead turn into a nine-point deficit.

“Obviously it worked well, but man, we got outplayed for three quarters,” Kerr said. “ … It was a great fourth quarter, but for those first three, they really took it to us.”

Phoenix (17-49) got 30 points, seven assists and six rebounds from Brandon Knight, 26 points and 13 rebounds from Alex Len and 18 points and 11 assists from rookie Devin Booker. All of this from a team that has gone 3-14 since interim head coach Earl Watson replaced the fired Jeff Hornacek on Feb. 1.

The Warriors, even after finding out they’ll miss Andre Iguodala for at least two weeks with a sprained left ankle, committed only eight turnovers and were simply more talented than their competition.

Mareese Speights had 25 points and nine rebounds off the bench, Klay Thompson added 20 points, and Green put up 19 points, six assists and four rebounds.

The first quarter included four ties and nine lead changes, including free throws by Leandro Barbosa that ignited the Warriors’ 13-5 run in the period’s final 2:55. Curry scored five of his 13 first-quarter points in the closing 34 seconds to give the Warriors a 31-24 edge heading into the second.

Curry went to the bench with four fouls at the 7:55 mark of the third quarter, and the Warriors’ lead evaporated into a 92-82 deficit on a Knight three-pointer with 1:35 to play. The Warriors’ point guard returned at the start of the fourth quarter, and the Warriors had tied it 95-95 2:11 later.

Speights scored six points during the 9-0 run and added a three-point play that put the Warriors ahead 100-98 with 8:53 to play.

During Speights’ postgame interview in the locker room, Andrew Bogut brought him a towel to wipe his brow.

“That’s on me, man,” Bogut said. “You played good today.”

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No. 3: Kyrie ready to “step up” — As the Cleveland Cavaliers continue to try and find the perfect mix heading into the postseason, Kobe Bryant says someone on their team needs to create some “inner conflict.” And as ESPN’s Dave McMenamin writes, the guy who grew up idolizing Kobe, Kyrie Irving, says he thinks he can be that person for the Cavs…

After Kobe Bryant played the Cleveland Cavaliers for the final time on Thursday, the Los Angeles Lakers’ legend provided a parting take about the state of the Cavs.

“You have to have that inner conflict,” Bryant said. “You have to have that person that’s really driving these things. From the Cavs’ perspective, it’s hard for me to tell from afar who should be that person. LeBron [James] is not that person. LeBron, he’s a … he brings people together. That’s what he does naturally. He’s phenomenal at it. But you have to have somebody else who’s going to create that tension. Maybe it’s Kyrie [Irving].”

Cleveland’s point guard, who idolized Bryant when he was growing up, thinks he can indeed be the straw that stirs the Cavs’ drink.

“It’s in my personality, I would agree with that,” Irving told ESPN.com before Cleveland practiced on the campus of UCLA on Saturday.

“I think if one of the greatest players to play our game and has had championship runs and has been on teams where he’s either been that or he’s been the guy that has been the emotional voice of the team and holding guys accountable, I think he said it best. I think that in order for our team to be where we want to go, I have to step up and be that other leader on our team other than LeBron. So, I would agree with that. It’s definitely in my personality. It’s taken me a few years to kind of grow into that and kind of earn my teammates’ respect and also hold myself accountable when I’m out there.”

Irving is in his fifth season and turns 24 this month. James is a 13-year veteran and 31 years old. They are in vastly different stages of their careers, yet teaming together for the common goal of winning a championship. It’s accelerated Irving’s aging process.

“I have to grow up quick, especially with this team. In order for us to be successful, I have to be a lot older than what my years show,” Irving said. “So, it’s been a learning experience since Day 1 that Bron has come back and being a championship-caliber team, I’ve had to grow up quick. It hasn’t been perfect. I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, but one thing I can bank on is when I get it, I get it and we get rolling. That’s the way it should be. It’s taken time but I’m definitely assuming that role of being one of the guys that’s the other voice other than LeBron and [Tyronn Lue].”

The Cavs’ coach has seen the dynamic play out between his stars and still pegs it as more of a mentor-mentee relationship than peer-to-peer.

“It gives him a chance to learn from someone who has won two championships, been to the Finals six times,” Lue said. “He’s been arguably the best player in the league for seven, eight years in a row. Having that type of guy around you every single day to help mold you to what you’re trying to do and that’s winning. Kyrie has taken to it greatly. I think he likes having LeBron around and teaching him different things that we need to do to become champions.”

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No. 4: Grizz lose Conley, Andersen — The Memphis Grizzlies of recent years have adopted a “grit and grind” identity, meaning they play hard and never give up. That philosophy is being put the test right now, as injuries had whittled their rotation down to as few as 8 players in recent days. And now, with a fight to hang onto their playoff spot ahead of them, the Grizz look to be without Mike Conley and Chris Andersen for a while, writes Ronald Tillery in the Memphis Commercial Appeal

The Grizzlies were granted two injury exceptions by the NBA and used them Saturday to sign guard Ray McCallum and center Alex Stepheson to 10-day contracts.

Stepheson, 28, mostly recently played on a 10-day deal for the Los Angeles Clippers. He played 31 games with the Iowa Energy this season, averaging 16 points and 14 rebounds in 34 minutes a game for the Grizzlies’ NBA Development League affiliate.

McCallum, 23, appeared in 31 games for the San Antonio Spurs this season, averaging 2.2 points and 1.1 assists. The 6-3 guard was the 36th overall pick during the 2013 NBA draft by the Sacramento Kings.

The Spurs waived McCallum Feb. 29 to create room for the signing of Andre Miller. McCallum would be eligible for the playoffs because his release happened before March 1.

The Griz now have three players with 10-day contracts after signing D-League point guard Briante Weber on Friday. Weber started and logged 40 minutes in an overtime win against the New Orleans Pelicans.

The additional transactions come as the Griz announced that point guard Mike Conley will miss another three to four weeks with a sore Achilles.

Conley and center Chris Andersen sat out the past three games. Andersen suffered a partially separated shoulder March 6 in a home game against Phoenix. He remains out and will continue to be re-evaluated.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dwyane Wade sat out last night to recover from a bruised thigh … The Knicks lost on Friday night, but they liked the aggressiveness down the stretch from Kristaps Porzingis … The Warriors were named Best Analytics Organization at the Sloan Sports Athletics Conference … Here’s Phil Jackson‘s favorite Kobe story

Morning shootaround — March 8


VIDEO: Highlights from Monday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron says Cavs aren’t ready for playoffs | Kerr sees lurking issue for Warriors | Anthony ready to play summer recruiter

No. 1: LeBron: Cavs aren’t ready for postseason — LeBron James has made the playoffs in 11 straight seasons and counting and his Cleveland Cavaliers have the Eastern Conference’s best record and its No. 1 seed. On paper, all those things sound like a team that’s ready for the postseason and, in the eyes of Clevelanders, another run to The Finals. Yet after last night’s home loss to the shorthanded Memphis Grizzlies, James doesn’t see his team ready for the big stage at all, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com:

The Cavs had all their top rotation players available, were coming off a day off, were playing at Quicken Loans Arena (where they had built a 27-5 record) and were riding a three-game win streak. They hosted a Grizzlies team that was missing four starters — including Mike Conley (left foot soreness), Zach Randolph (rest) and Marc Gasol (right foot surgery) — and had just eight players in uniform as it played on the road on the second night of a back-to-back. Even so, it was Cleveland that looked like the underdog from the start.

“I can sit up here and say that we’re a team that’s ready to start the playoffs tomorrow, but we’re not,” LeBron James said after the Cavs trailed by as many as 14 before losing at the buzzer when Kyrie Irving missed a potential game-tying 3. “We’re still learning. We still have things that happen on the court that just, that shouldn’t happen.”

Chief among those mistakes was the Cavs’ coughing up a season-high 25 turnovers, which led to 30 points by the Grizzlies.

“We gave up a lot of pick-sixes,” James said. “In NFL terms, that means it’s straight to the house. To have 25 turnovers for 30 points — I don’t care who you’re playing, it could be my son’s little league team — you’re going to lose when you give up that many turnovers just from carelessness.”

Kevin Love was pragmatic afterward.

“We just could have done a better job of respecting the game,” Love said. “A team like that, they were going to come out and swing for the fences, and they did. That was a real bad loss for us. … Turnovers were terrible. That was what I mean, respecting the game.”

Irving, whose season-high seven turnovers marred the 27 points (14 in the fourth), five assists and four steals he registered, also pointed to the lineup change as contributing to the result.

“I just think for us, as a maturing, young team, we just have to come out and play everybody the same way,” he said. “For me, last day-and-a-half I spend watching film on Mike Conley, and then damn near before tipoff I find out he’s not playing and Z-Bo is not playing, and our shootaround was dedicated to stopping these two guys, and then we come in and the whole thing changes. We just have to get better as a team preparing for anybody that is out there on the floor — myself included.”

Coach Tyronn Lue warned reporters before the game that his team could be vulnerable, despite its apparent advantage.

“It’s always dangerous because we tend to let our guards down,” Lue said. “It’s going to be my job tonight to make sure that we don’t do that. We’ve done that a few times this year, and every time their star and key guys sit out, we tend to take a step backward and kind of relax a little bit. These guys coming off the bench or these guys proving that they need minutes or want minutes, they play hard, and we got to be able to accept the challenge.”


VIDEO: LeBron James had concerns about the Cavs after Monday’s loss

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Numbers notes: Thunder get stagnant with the game on the line


VIDEO: Stephen Curry’s 33 points lift Warriors past Thunder

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Oklahoma City Thunder had some problems down the stretch of games against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday and the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday. The Thunder were outscored 18-7 in the final 4:33 of the fourth quarter against Golden State and 22-3 in the final 4:59 at L.A.

Ugly endings, of course, put the Thunder’s late-game offense under scrutiny. It was the story when Scott Brooks was coach and it’s still the story with Billy Donovan now on the bench. In those two games, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook shot a combined 3-for-16 in the clutch (last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime with the score within five points).

The Thunder rank last in passes per game overall, so it’s not like they play like the Spurs before the game gets late. But it sure seems like things get even more stagnant with the game on the line.

The numbers back that up. According to SportVU, the Thunder were averaging 2.68 passes on non-clutch possessions, but just 2.23 on clutch possessions through Wednesday. 3. Only three of Westbrook’s 33 clutch-time baskets and only 16 of Durant’s 42 clutch-time baskets have been assisted.

Both those passes per possession numbers (clutch and non-clutch) rank in the bottom two of the league, but the drop-off of 17 percent is about the league average. Other teams see a greater reduction…

20160304_pass_red

The Jazz are that team that throws 2-3 passes at the beginning of most possessions that do nothing. So ball movement is definitely going to go down when they’re more purposefully looking to get the ball into the hands of Gordon Hayward or Rodney Hood to run a pick-and-roll.

The Cavs? Yeah, you can see that.

On the other end of the list are the Spurs, of course. They move the ball whether the game is on the line or not. They rank third with 3.50 passes per possession on non-clutch possessions and first with 3.36 on clutch possessions.


VIDEO: Dissecting OKC’s late-game woes

Bench issues in OKC

Though the Thunder are 2-6 since the All-Star break, their starting lineup has been the league’s best five-man unit that has played at least 250 minutes, having outscored its opponents by 18.9 points per 100 possessions. In their two games against the Warriors in the last week, the OKC starters were a plus-23 (outscoring the champs 81-58) in 32 minutes.

But all other OKC lineups were a minus-41 and Dion Waiters was a minus-42 in 51:34 in the two games. No other Thunder player was worse than a minus-17.

Donovan has been staggering the minutes of Durant and Westbrook over the last six games, keeping one of them on the floor at all (non-garbage) times. Instead of playing the entire first quarter like he typically had done through the first two games after the break, Durant has been taking a few-minute break midway through the period.

It’s too early to tell if it’s working, but Thursday’s game seemed to be lost in 7:43 stretch spanning the third and fourth quarters, where only one of Durant or Westbrook was on the floor. When Durant subbed out at 4:38 of the third, OKC led by nine and by the time both were on the floor together again with 8:55 to go in the fourth, the Thunder were down five.

Would things have been different if they both stayed on the floor together longer and the Thunder played a few minutes of the fourth with neither in the game? Who knows.

In the six games that Donovan has been staggering his stars’ minutes, the Thunder are a plus-4 in 159 minutes with both on the floor and a plus-6 in 130 minutes with only one of the two on the floor. The offense has been great and the defense has been terrible no matter who has been on the floor. More study is needed.

55-5, playing at a disadvantage

There are plenty of numbers to explain how good the Warriors have been this season. Here’s another data point that makes their ridiculous 55-5 record look even more impressive than it looks on the surface…

Thursday’s win over the Thunder was just the sixth game this season in which the Warriors had a rest advantage, where they didn’t play the day before, but their opponent did. Only the Boston Celtics (5) have had fewer such games.

The Warriors have played twice as many games (12) with a rest disadvantage, where they played the night before, but their opponent didn’t. That’s the biggest negative rest-advantage-to-rest-disadvantage differential (-6) in the league.

Of course, they haven’t lost in either situation. The Warriors are 6-0 with a rest advantage and 12-0 with a rest disadvantage. All five of their losses have come when both teams were on the second night of a back-to-back (2-1) or when both teams didn’t play the day before (35-4).

The champs’ differential will be reduced a bit before the end of the season. They have seven games remaining with a rest advantage and five remaining at a disadvantage.

Not taking advantage

On the other end of the spectrum are the New York Knicks, who have played eight more games with a rest advantage (14) than they have with a rest disadvantage (6). No other team has a positive differential of more than three. But the Knicks are just 5-9 with an advantage, having allowed 108.1 points per 100 possessions in those 14 games.

Teams with a rest advantage (160-115) have the same winning percentage (.582) as home teams (530-381) do this season.

Point differential per 100 possessions…
Rest advantage: plus-2.2
Home court: plus-2.3

Morning shootaround — March 2


VIDEO: Highlights from Tuesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Green saves day for Warriors | Report: Spurs pursuing Martin | Rockets add Ray to coaching staff | Anthony offers quick rebuttal to heckler

No. 1: Green saves day for Warriors vs. Hawks — The reigning Kia MVP (Stephen Curry) and the Finals MVP (Andre Iguodala) both missed the Golden State Warriors’ game against the Atlanta Hawks last night. On the surface, news like that would seem to give the Hawks a leg up on beating the NBA’s best team. But do-it-all forward Draymond Green wasn’t about to let that happen. The San Francisco Chronicle‘s Rusty Simmons details how Green put the Warriors on his back to move Golden State to its 43rd straight home win:

Draymond Green had nothing to apologize for Tuesday.

On a night when injuries sidelined regular-season MVP Stephen Curry and NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala, Green did his best MVP impersonation, making a seemingly impossible overtime three-pointer and leading the Warriors to a 109-105 victory against the Hawks at Oracle Arena.

Green apologized Monday for a locker-room tirade during halftime of Saturday’s overtime win in Oklahoma City. If they ever really stopped being the most joyous squad on the planet, the Warriors quickly returned to that designation as Green led a total team effort with 15 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists and four steals.

“What can you say?” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said, searching for words to describe how Green willed the Warriors to a victory without their captains. “Another near triple-double. Point guard. He was our point forward tonight.

“It was a brilliant performance from Draymond.”

Along with Green’s huge game, the Warriors got 26 points from Thompson, a season-high 19 from Andrew Bogut, 12 from Harrison Barnes and a combined 21 from Leandro Barbosa and Marreese Speights off the bench.

“A night like this should be fun, right?” Kerr said. “Everybody should be aggressive. There’s nothing to lose. … I thought everybody was aggressive. Aggression without turnovers: That was important.”

“I just wanted to come out and play hard for my team,” Green said. “That’s what I’m going to do each and every day. Every time I step on the floor, I’m going to give 110 percent for my teammates.

“I wasn’t worried about what people were saying about me or this, that or the other. I know what I try to bring to this team.”


VIDEO: Golden State escapes Hawks in OT

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