Everything... Literally Everything... Blazers/Suns

With so much playoff series preview content out there, trying to keep up can be overwhelming and disorienting.  Take off your coat and sit down.  I'm glad to help you work those feelings out.  

Here's our Blazersedge preview content so far...

Poll | Dave's Preview 1 | Dave's Preview 2 | Wingcast Preview | Friday Practice Report

Now that you've savored every word and every second of audio, let's expand our vision.  I've sludged through the entire internet's worth of Blazers/Suns preview content and pulled together the following humongous batch of excerpts and links. Click through to check it out.

Also, the last 72 hours have probably been the greatest 3 day stretch in FanShots history.  Read them.

-- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter

The Blazers are hosting a viewing party at the Rose Garden.  Here are the details...

Sunday, April 18... Watch the game broadcast at the Rose Garden Arena...

  • 5 pm | Live music, entertainment and games outside on the Commons
  • 7 pm | Doors open; pre-game broadcast and chalk talk with Trail Blazers Alumni
  • 7:30 pm | Watch the game broadcast on the biggest screen in town

Free admission and parking in the Garden Garage. Free player bobbleheads for first 500 fans through the doors.    

I'm biased but if you're looking for one series preview (besides Dave's) check out this one by Kevin Pelton.

Nate McMillan will surely also look to exploit Miller against Nash, both with post-ups and in the pick-and-roll. The crafty Miller remains effective at getting to the basket and finishing, and he was a big part of Portland's Feb. 10 win at the US Airways Center in a game Roy missed, scoring 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting. It will be interesting to see whether Gentry considers hiding Nash on Rudy Fernandez or Martell Webster, both of whom are bigger but function primarily as spot-up shooters for the Blazers.

If Roy sits, it will be important for Portland to get scoring from at least one other source besides Aldridge and Miller. In Monday's key win over Oklahoma City, that player was Camby, who scored a season-high 30 points on 12-of-16 shooting. It's safe to say the Blazers cannot count on getting that kind of offensive production from Camby on a regular basis. In Sunday's win against the Lakers, the third player was Webster, who came off the bench to score 16 points. The streaky Fernandez is another candidate, as is Batum, who posted a sparkling .657 True Shooting Percentage in a limited offensive role after returning from injury.

The offensive glass should also be another source of easy points for Portland. The addition of Camby reignited that aspect of the Blazers' offense, and the team finished the season fourth in the league in offensive rebound percentage. Phoenix, meanwhile, ranked 29th on the defensive glass and was even worse than that without Lopez.

TNT's Kevin Harlan did an interview with Matt Moore over at Hardwood Paroxysm.  Regarding the Blazers, Harlan says...  

Well, you know, they're used to playing without superstars. They lost Przybilla, and they lost Oden. Now they lose Roy, and he's their leader in points and second leader in assists. So they lose a lot with him. But they've got better play from point guard with Andre Miller, LaMarcus Aldridge has really developed, and Camby has been a Godsend for them. They had all this guard depth, and then they lost their bigs, so they used that depth to trade for Camby and that's how they've stayed above water. Camby has just been gigantic for them on and off the floor.

One thing people around the league will tell you is the veterans they've brought in, Camby, Juwan Howard, they've been so good at leadership, and tutoring, and professionalism. And with all that they've got a balanced coach in Nate McMillan who has weathered the storm. Camby gives them a chance, but without Roy? It'll be tough. We'll see.

John Hollinger includes LaMarcus Aldridge in his list of players that have the most to win or lose in this year's playoffs.

The injury to Brandon Roy, along with all their other maladies this season, means the Blazers are basically playing with house money. The one exception is Aldridge, who was completely outclassed by Houston's Luis Scola in the first round a year ago.

He'll need to make amends against a Suns squad that doesn't appear to have anyone who can reliably cover him. Aldridge took a slight step back statistically this season, but if he can deliver in the postseason it will renew faith that he can eventually ascend to All-Star status -- an expectation that's already priced in to his $55 million extension.

John Hollinger also makes his series prediction (Insider)...

The odds and head-to-head matchups say the Blazers have a chance; common sense says otherwise.

Forget the fact Phoenix is the hottest team in the West at the moment and that the Blazers are ill-suited to take advantage of the Suns' biggest weakness (a lack of quality size), because there's also the little matter of Portland's best player being unable to perform.

Brandon Roy wasn't as good this season as he was in 2008-09, but there's still a serious diminution in production when he's off the court. Portland was 8-9 in games he missed in the regular season and had a negative scoring margin in those 17 games. While the rest of the Blazers were good enough at times to hammer Orlando by 15 and even beat the Suns in Phoenix without him, they also were bad enough to lose to Washington and New Orleans.

We'll talk more about the Suns down below, but suffice it to say, I'll be surprised if they're tested in Round 1, buying them more time to get Robin Lopez back into playing shape.

Pick: Suns in five

Paul Coro on the new-look Suns...

"Alvin changed their mentality," Barkley said. "He got them playing defense and integrated the young guys. They're better because (Jared) Dudley and the Lopez kid are terrific defensively. Grant (Hill) has always been a solid defender. Let's be honest, the two guys who can't play defense are Steve (Nash) and Amar'e."

Barkley is still on Stoudemire's case, noting Phoenix has not made the conference finals since the season he was out. Barkley blistered him in the past because of his 7.8 career rebounding average. He averaged 8.9 this season.

"Kenny!" Barkley yells, seeking the attention of fellow TNT analyst Kenny Smith. "What do you call a power forward averaging eight rebounds a game? . . . (laughter) . . . That's right, a small forward."

Henry Abbott picked the Blazers...

But for Portland's meaningless Travis Diener-laced special last night, the two teams would have identical records (Suns 17-4, Blazers 16-5) since March 1. Meanwhile, guards who muscle into the paint can cause Steve Nash problems on defense, and Miller does that like crazy, especially in Roy's absence. Big men who rebound have also wreaked havoc for the Suns, and Camby has that potential. Not to mention, the Blazers are not the young team we know them as. They're Miller and Camby and veteran tricks galore, including and especially in how they relate to referees. 

Having watched every minute of those two teams going head-to-head all season, it's impossible for me to see that series as anything other than a toss-up, which is more or less how I called it.     

So did Henry Abbott's Mom, who was the only member (out of 8) of the annual True Hoop Stat Geek Smackdown to pick the Blazers.  The rest of the geeks write...

"Phoenix has been red-hot over the final 20+ games of the season (outscoring opponents by over 10 points per game)," Ilardi writes, who thinks the Blazers "may be lucky to eke out one win at home."

...

"Strictly by the numbers," Pelton writes, "this is the series most likely to produce an upset, in large part because the Blazers took the season series 2-1. Brandon Roy's injury throws that for a bit of a loop, however. While Portland beat the Suns in Phoenix without Roy, his absence will make things more difficult on offense for the Blazers, and they'll need to score to keep up with the Suns."

"Amare Stoudemire is finally playing like the dominant force he should be," Ma says. "The Blazers just don't have enough offense to run with this Suns team."

Dwight Jaynes lays out what needs to happen for the Blazers to win this series without Brandon Roy.  

Rudy Fernandez is going to have to be the player he thinks he is. You know, I always say that in his mind, he came over here from Spain to be a star, not somebody's backup. So now, let's see it Rudy. Here's your chance on a big stage - go show the world who you are.

Martell Webster is going to have to consistently make shots and continue his solid defensive effort. I don't worry about him as much for one reason - Webster's effort level has been high all season long. He shows up.

Joe Freeman takes a look at the second time around for Nicolas Batum...

McMillan insists Batum is a ways away from earning a "defensive stopper" moniker. After all, at his core, Batum considers himself a nice guy, and no defensive stopper has ever been referred to as a nice guy. McMillan says he will -- literally -- see it on Batum's face when he has earned the reputation.

"Right now he's not scarred up," McMillan said. "He's not scratched up. And that's going to come from him just harassing people. His face is still cut, babyish, and he doesn't have any stitches. He's still put together well. But when you're talking about the best offensive players and really (defending) them, then you're not going to be a liked guy. Right now ... he's a pretty likable guy." 

When he hears McMillan's words, Batum smiles and acknowledges his shortcoming. 

"I try sometimes but I cannot because I'm too ... I'm a good guy, you know," he says. "But I do sometimes. I walk on their foot, grab jerseys and pinch sides sometimes."     

Geoffrey C. Arnold says the pressure is on Rudy Fernandez...

Who's going to replace that Roy's multi-faceted contributions? That will have to come by committee if the Blazers are going to upset the Suns. But the key player for the Blazers will be Rudy Fernandez.

 Fernandez, who has been stealthily complaining - usually in a Spanish-language newspaper or magazine - about his minutes, role and touches off and on throughout the season, will finally get his chance to show what he can do. His adoring fans complain that coach Nate McMillan is mis-using him and they talk about what he could do if given the minutes. Well, he'll start against the Suns and get plenty of minutes in this series.     

Kerry Eggers quotes Andre Miller...

"We match up well with them," Miller said. "It'll come down to controlling that little fellow (Nash). He'll be a Hall of Famer, I know that."

What will Miller try to do against Nash?

"You just want to keep him in front of you, force him to take tough shots, try to keep him out of the lane," Miller said. "A lot of things he gets, he brings the defense to him and drops it off to Stoudemire for dunks."

Seth Pollack sums it up...

So basically what you have is a Suns team that shoots the ball better, creates hard shots for their opponents and plays much faster versus a disciplined Portland team that values each possession more by creating turnovers, taking care of the ball, and controlling the glass.

The contrast is striking and in theory favors Portland in a playoff environment where things slow down, get more physical and each possession matters more.

It also means that each team has a clear path to victory in the series if they can continue to do well and limit their weaknesses.

Matt Moore says Phoenix must get tough...

1. Punish the punishers: A favorite tactic teams have emulated from the Spurs against Nash is to have the defending guard go under the screen, then grab Nash's wrist, just for a minute. It's so slight, it avoids a call, but not only slows down Nash, but tweaks his back at the same time. The Suns need to counter this with a significant screen. Send a message. You mess with Nash, you reap the whirlwind.     

Kurt Helin includes Marcus Camby on his list of players who will make the Western playoffs wild...

Marcus Camby (Portland Trail Blazers): At some point during this series, Marcus Camby is going to end up in an Amare Stoudemire poster. If you try to defend the rim against Phoenix that is going to happen now and again. Hazard of the job. 

But Camby is going to be the guy matched up on STAT, and if the Blazers (without Brandon Roy) are to have any chance Camby is going to have to win that battle. He is going to have to be the man on the pick and roll that slows Nash and Amare. Camby is one of the few players in the Association with the skills to pull this off -- he can show out on Nash and still recover well, he is long and plays smart. Nobody stops the Suns, but Camby could make them less efficient. That's a start, then all the Blazers need to do is find some scoring.    

Coup and SJ go back and forth on Rip City Project before making their predictions.  Coup writes...

A lot of people talk about Utah being a bad matchup for Portland because of their toughness, but a huge problem with them is that their offense is predicated on off-ball movement and passing - they led the league in Assists-per-FGM. Utah kills you if your help rotations aren't up to snuff, and Phoenix isn't too far off, relying more on shooters spacing the floor rather than backdoor cutters. So while Phoenix isn't going to push anyone around, Portland can get killed just the same if they aren't helping. Fortunately, that's the area the Blazers have improved the most in since the trade deadline, especially the last couple of weeks.

Staying with defense, how would you use Batum? Grant Hill and Jared Dudleycannot be treated lightly, but similar to Camby I'd like to see Batum moved around the defense just to keep Phoenix off-balance with his athleticism. Play Batum on Hill, switch him on to Jason Richardson, send him to double Amar'e, everything. You can even put him on Nash for a possession or two, but not for long because Batum will probably struggle to get around the Stoudemire screens.

Paul Coro quotes Amar'e...

"It's going to be a hard-fought series," Stoudemire said. "Portland has been playing well. They have got great guys who can score ball. Marcus Camby is one of the best defenders in the league, so it's not going to be easy. We've got to know them better than ourselves."

Trevor Paxton says the Suns bench are a good reason for fans to join their bandwagon...

The Suns' bench has been truly remarkable, playing with heart and passion. However, even more than the spirited fist pumps and all out play, the Suns' bench is telling of a deep playoff run. In years past, the Phoenix Suns were always one of the best teams in the league. They were always one of the favorites to go home with the ever elusive Larry O'Brien trophy.

However, a lack of depth and true talent beyond the first six or seven players is what hindered the Suns from ever achieving that goal. One might blame it on bad luck, saddle up and get on the "I Hate David Stern" bandwagon, or simply resort to apathy when discussing years past. But, with the emergence of young Slovenian point guard Goran Dragic, Lou "My Ponytail Is Better Than Yours" Amundson and deep range threat Channing Frye, the Suns make the case that they can rely on their bench in crunch time, providing rest for their starters. Oh, and we can't forget Jared Dudley, fierce competitor and possessor of the most athletic hands in history.

Dave gives plenty of reasons for fans to join the Blazers bandwagon, including...

A chemistry experiment going right. The Blazers have been an odd petrie dish in the last few years. They started from less than nothing five seasons ago. Their best players were also their worst malcontents. They weren't winning. They blew it up and started over completely. Through some shrewd maneuvering and a little luck in the draft they stocked up with talented, young players. Too many talented, young players really. There wasn't court time for all of them to develop. Last year's playoffs showed obvious holes in the armor. The Houston Rockets bushwhacked the Blazers early and the youngsters couldn't make it up. But in the past year Portland has focused on mixing veterans in with their young talent. Andre Miller, Marcus Camby, and Juwan Howard provide a solid base from which those young guys can launch. All three veterans are playing good-to-great basketball. The team looks more cohesive and controlled. Whether that transformation makes any difference in the post season remains to be seen, but it's interesting to watch nevertheless.     

Casey Holdahl on the Blazers slow pace approach...

It's tricky playing early or late when your opponent refuses to do the same, as many of them do. Teams like the Suns, Nuggets, Warriors and Kings like nothing more than to get teams playing at their pace, which is something the Trail Blazers have had difficulty with in past season.  

"You get drawn in as opposed to sticking with what you do," said McMillan. "You get caught up in playing their style of basketball because you're going to get some open looks. It's an easy game to play, as opposed to attacking the basket and putting pressure on their defense. If you work a little longer, set a few more screens, you'll get an even better shot than maybe that first shot you get."    

Portland Roundball Society chats with Valley of the Suns...

I love where the team is at. They are not burdened by the weight of expectations like they were in previous seasons. There's kind of a loose, carefree attitude that has enveloped the team. My only worry is that they start reading their press clippings and get cocky. That's what happened during the 12-18 slump that followed the 14-3 start. They came out in November with a chip on their shoulder and then they stopped playing with the same intensity. Yes, everybody knows this could be it for the Nash-Amare era, but with where expectations started I don't think they feel the pressure that they did in previous seasons.

And Valley of the Suns chats with Ezra Caraeff of Portland Roundball Society...

There was a point in this season where the Blazers really should have packed it in and headed for the John Wall sweepstakes: December 23rd, 2009 to be exact. Oden had already gone under the knife, Nicolas Batum hadn't played a single game all season long, Joel Przybilla was in a crumbled pile of sadness and torn ligaments, Brandon Roy was out, and the team was playing in San Antonio. If this was a movie, the Blazers beating the Spurs 98-94 that night would be the moment where the triumphant band of losers realizes that they can beat anyone if they just believe in themselves.

Truth told, no one knows why this team has been capable of winning 50 games. The Blazers are still a very young team, but have made a seamless transition to the next level thanks to Andre Miller and Marcus Camby. It's insane to say it, but this team is better right this very second (even without Roy) than they were before playing the Rockets in the first round last season - with Oden in the lineup and home-court advantage.

Trey Kerby on LaMarcus versus Amar'e...

This can only go one of two ways. Either LaMarcus Aldridge realizes that Amar'e Stoudemire is eminently capable of putting him on the wrong side of highlights in every game of this series and responds accordingly. Or, he doesn't, and ends up on the wrong side of highlights in every game of this series.

Amar'e thrives on lithe big men. Nothing delights him more than putting them on a poster, and in the second half of this season, he's been doing that a lot. If the depleted Blazers want to see Brandon Roy this postseason, they need to win this series. And to win this series, they need LaMarcus Aldridge to get mean

Dennis Tarwood writes on Slam Online...

Phoenix Suns head coach Alvin Gentry pointed out before the final Suns home game of the season that the results don't reflect the trials of being a Trail Blazer: "To win 50 games in the West with all that going on... What Nate has done is just a little bit better." Gentry called McMillan his coach of the year.

Will Carroll says the Suns chemistry is great...

Since the outset of this season, we have heard from coaches and players alike how tight the Suns players are with one another. The locker room is loose and the players hang out with one another off the court. Amare Stoudemire took the whole team out to dinner on a recent roadtrip -- and paid for the whole meal. During the annual trade Amare deadline, when the static of voices and rumors surfaced, Amare endured the noise, and didn't let it all adversely affect his play or attitude. This is evidenced in his heightened level of play leading up to and after the All-Star break. Not only has Amare increased his defensive output, he's also become a beast on the offensive end, in becoming the 4th leading scorer in the league post All-Star break.

Credit the Suns' veteran leadership for the excellent team chemistry. Steve Nash averages something like 239 high fives a game (an intern actually counted during one game), while adding a calm, philosophical approach to the game. Grant Hill is the consummate professional charged with showing youngsters including rookie Earl Clark the ropes of the NBA, and Amare Stoudemire has accepted a more vocal leadership role on this team. Add in Jared Dudley's incessant comedic chatter and the Phoenix Suns have become a team who thrives off of their love of winning, which is a product of their brotherly love of one another.

Mike Schmitz writes off the Phoenix December loss to Portland...

A 35-point fourth quarter outburst and a 29-point performance from former Arizona Wildcat Jerryd Bayless led Portland back from a 15-point deficit to hand the Suns their sixth consecutive road loss. Jason Richardson was out, and Alando Tucker actually played nine whole minutes, so this wasn't exactly the Suns team fans have grown to love.

These were the days when Channing Frye was the starting center, the Suns were still dealing with the TNT curse (the loss was their 17th straight on TNT) and they would surrender any lead at any time. This was the team that was on a downswing (3-6) after starting the season 14-3, and the injury-riddled Trail Blazers stole a win from the struggling Suns.

Charley Rosen expects Phoenix to win...

On offense, Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire are as perfectly coordinated as Siamese twins. Nash's crafty handling coupled with Stoudemire's resurrected quickness is a potent combination that Portland simply cannot contain. 

Especially since Andre Miller, Rudy Fernandez, Jerryd Bayless and (especially) Juwan Howard are all deficient defenders. For sure, Marcus Camby can run and jump with Stoudemire, but Portland's center is also strictly a finesse player who tends to pick up early fouls. 

Because Stoudemire and Little Stevie Wonder are playing at the tops of their respective games, the Blazers defense absolutely must concentrate on jamming them - which will inevitably eventuate in uncontested treys for Channing Frye, Jason Richardson, Jared Dudley and Goran Dragic.     

Britt Robson loves the idea of this series...

This could be a classic, even if Blazers star Brandon Roy is sidelined or limited by a knee injury. Since March 1, Phoenix is 17-4 while Portland is 15-5. Given the significant injuries that have hit both teams, they have probably maximized their existing talent better than any two teams in the West. It will be a battle of tempo: The Suns play at the league's fourth-fastest pace (95.4 possessions per game), the Blazers at the slowest (87.6 possessions). Their three regular-season matchups averaged 89.4 possessions, with Portland winning twice. But Phoenix prevailed in their final meeting and it was the slowest-paced contest of the bunch.

Ian Thomsen considers the Suns an outside title contender...

Phoenix Suns.How did the frontcourt-thin Suns earn -- and earn it they did -- the No. 3 seed? The answer is they execute better on the fly than most teams can manage in the halfcourt, thanks toSteve Nash's run-and-shoot quarterbacking, Amar'e Stoudemire's finishing andGrant Hill's versatility. Now they've been handed a first-round pass with Portland leading scorer Brandon Roy sitting out for knee surgery (torn meniscus). How can Portland control tempo without its best player?

So the Suns will move into the second round as enormous underdogs against the Mavericks or Spurs, but neither of those opponents will take victory over Phoenix as granted so long as Nash is pushing the ball and his shooters are making threes.

Brian T. Smith with more on LaMarcus Aldridge, option one...

"I would say my game is growing more toward the block," Aldridge said. "I looked at some chart - I haven't made that many 18-footers in the last two months; all my points are in the paint. "I think as you get older and you get stronger and you learn the game more, you tend to go either way. I think my game is going more toward the block, which I like. Because I think I still make an 18-foot jump shot every now and then."

Aldridge's final sentence was followed by laughter, and he appeared comfortable, confident and at ease while being swarmed by the media Friday. The former Texas standout also showed no ill effects from a stomach virus that forced him to be hospitalized overnight Tuesday, and sit out Portland's regular-season finale against Golden State.

Andrew Sharp says the Blazers rash of injuries is Biblical...

Until you realize Camby's mostly okay, it reads like a bad April's Fools joke...

...Or something far more grave. Like, say, a biblical plague from the Basketball Gods. If that's what we're dealing with here, then let's break it down, side-by-side with the acutal biblical plague.

The death of the first-born in all Egyptian families ... This is clearly the Greg Oden injury.
All of Egypt's livestock becomes diseased ... Rudy Fernandez and Nicholas Batum injuries.
Hail mixed with fire rains down from the skies ... Brandon Roy's injury on the eve of the playoffs.
All bodies of water turn to blood ... Joel Pryzbilla slips in his bathtub, ending his season.

Mike Rose asks and answers some questions...

3: Is there anyone that is bodying with F Amare Stoudemire in the paint for Portland? This is the one facet of the game that the Blazers may have controlled, believe it or not. No, there isn't anyone that can keep up with Stoudemire by himself, but between C LaMarcus Aldridge and C Marcus Camby, both of which are built awfully similarly to the Phoenix superstar, one may be able to slow him down enough to frustrate him and pick up some cheap fouls. Getting Stoudemire in foul trouble will be key, because that is when the inside guys for Portland can take this series over in the paint and rough up the then very undersized Suns.

4: Is this really G Steve Nash's year? Why not? Nash, who is a Hall of Famer in waiting, dished out just short of 900 assists this year and was once again one of the league's best point guards. However, he also shot 50.7 percent from the floor and 42.6 percent from downtown, both of which were amongst the team leaders. Nash knows that this is probably his last chance at winning it all, as Stoudemire is almost sure to have his bags packed to leave town once this season is over.

Phillip Barnett writes...

Point Guard - Steve Nash vs. Andre Miller
Andre Miller is having a good season with the Blazers - much like he's had good seasons with Philly, Denver, The Clippers, and Cleveland. That's just what he is, good. Andre Miller is, by no means at all, Steve Nash. The only reason anyone would ever mention them in the same sentence is when they're writing playoff previews. Steve Nash isn't having the greatest season of his career by any measures, but he looks like he's having more fun on the court than he's had since 2006. When Nash is having fun, it means trouble for opposing basketball teams. In games against Portland, Nash has a 10 to 3 assist/turnover ratio. That, my friends, is fantastic. 
Advantage: Suns

Chris Broussard and Ric Bucher go back and forth on the Suns shooters (Insider)...

CB: You keep assuming the Suns' 3-point guns will buckle in the postseason, but why? Phoenix is an unbelievable 3-point shooting team (41.2 percent) and three of the guys that take the most treys -- Steve Nash, Jason Richardson and Leandro Barbosa -- are already playoff-tested. No, they haven't won it all, but they've been fairly close. Dudley strikes me as a carefree guy who won't melt under the bright lights and, like you, I'll go with my "gut" on Frye to come through.

RB: For the record, both Dudley and Frye take more 3s than Barbosa. And here's why I would assume Phoenix's playoff neophytes would not shoot as well in the postseason: Because that's what happens, especially when it's a player's first taste. Check out Mo Williams', Dirk Nowitzki's and Nash's first-time numbers when you have the time.

Nick Poust on Fan Huddle...

For Portland to prove nearly every so-called expert wrong, they will need Aldridge to keep playing as he has, Miller to do what he has been doing, Webster to also pick up where he left off, Fernandez to hit three-pointers and find his inner aggressiveness (I know it is in there somewhere!), Camby to block shots, grab rebounds, and score 15 points per game, Bayless to drive and make smart decisions, and for the defense to guard the three-point line heavily and clog Nash's passing lanes. It sounds like a tall order, but, with three games at home, at the Rose Garden, in front of what ESPN's Bill Simmons considers the best fans in the NBA, pulling off the upset is very doable. In fact, I expect them to.

Quick Hits

Don't you feel better?

-- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter

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