The tip off to the regular season is almost here!
After a wild offseason and what feels like endless speculation about how this next season will unfold, the only consensus is that… there's no consensus!
Whether it's predicting an eventual NBA champion or picking an MVP or choosing likely playoff teams or forecasting which young player takes a big step forward, there's more uncertainty than perhaps ever before. That sets the stage for what should be one of the most entertaining regular seasons in recent history.
There are legitimately fascinating reasons to watch each and every team on any given night. This is a league brimming with enough top-shelf talent and salivating storylines to keep hoops-crazed fans on the edge of their seats from the tip off through the final buzzer.
With that in mind, here is the biggest reason to catch each of the 30 teams in action sooner rather than later.
Click your team to skip down.
Grab your popcorn.
The Greatest Duo... Ever?
LeBron James and Anthony Davis have a chance to be a transformative duo unlike anything we've ever seen on a basketball court.
When it comes to the greatest duos ever, a list that includes Jordan and Pippen, Magic and Kareem, Kobe and Shaq, Bird and McHale, and so many others, the knee-jerk reaction is to default to championships.
In that regard, it's hard to imagine James and Davis playing long enough together to enter THAT conversation. There's no guarantee they'll even win one, let alone a handfull.
But that's the 30,000 foot view.
Taking legacy and rings out of the equation for a moment and focusing strictly on what they can do on the court together at any given moment, James and Davis offer up a 1-2 punch unlike anything we've ever seen. They complement each other perfectly and it's hard to imagine drawing up a better partner for either in a lab, let alone real life.
MORE: The scariest pick-and-roll combo ever
There are going to be moments created by their brilliance throughout the season that leaves everyone utterly speechless. They will come without any warning and they will come at a moment's notice. Fearful of missing out? Just plan on watching every second they spend together. Showtime is back.
Kawhi Leonard is in the midst of putting together perhaps the most unique career of any superstar in league history.
Two titles, two Finals MVPs, two different teams, two sunken dynasties.
Search through seven decades and you won't find anyone quite like Leonard.
And that's even before this third act. After delivering the goods with both the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors, Leonard is now the frontman for the LA Clippers on a loaded roster that's pegged by many as title favourites heading into the season.
If next June finds Leonard standing triumphantly on a podium holding a Finals MVP trophy with a third team, he'll have accomplished a feat unmatched by any of the over 4,000 players that have ever laced them up in the NBA.
Every Clippers game is a potential step towards history.
What happens when the two highest usage players in NBA history share the same backcourt?
That's the science experiment underway in Houston as James Harden and Russell Westbrook look to co-exist and propel the Rockets to the NBA Finals. Experiments of this magnitude are generally reserved for white-coat types in European physics facilities, not basketball lockerrooms in the NBA.
On some nights, the collision of Harden and Westbrook will lead to breathtakingly beautiful sequences of basketball, two offensive masterpieces of the highest order that routinely leave opponents dumbstruck.
On other nights, the collision of Harden and Westbrook will lead to confoundingly confusing sequences that don't make any sense with the only conclusion that any thought of them figuring it out is a heat check borne out of the highest order of hubris.
MORE: Ranking the NBA's best 30 backcourts
The Return of Chef Curry
It was only 25 minutes of preseason basketball, but it offered a glimpse into what might be in store in Golden State.
Players don't just casually drop 40 spots in the preseason.
But that's exactly what Stephen Curry did against the Minnesota Timberwolves, scoring 40 points in three quarters against the Minnesota Timberwolves. It was the kind of performance that many expect on a routine basis this season following the departure of Kevin Durant and injury to Klay Thompson.
2019-20 could mean a return to MVP form for Curry which makes the Warriors an absolute must-see.
The other 40%
"I think I am at 60% of my potential, as good as I can be."
That was Giannis Antetokounmpo offering up an assessment on the current state of his own game earlier this offseason on the heels of winning his first MVP award.
MORE: What does 100% Giannis look like?
He's already a marvel capable of doing things on a basketball court that shouldn't be physically possible which means if there actually is another 40% to go, the Greek Freak is on the verge of becoming one of the greatest players to ever step onto the hardwood.
That's an insanely terrifying thought for the other 29 franchises and an insanely binge-worthy proposition for NBA fans as we now get to gleefully look on as Antetokounmpo continues to evolve and take shape.
"The other 40%" likely won't play out in its entirety this season. There will be times when it's so subtle that nobody even realizes what's happening in real time. But make no mistake, "the other 40%" is certainly worth keeping an eye on from start to finish.
Ben Simmons is Happy Gilmore
Where were you the night it happened?
for three. pic.twitter.com/BAHKl9CYXP- Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) October 9, 2019
And by "it", I mean the first time Ben Simmons drained a 3-pointer in an NBA game. That single made shot in a preseason game actually changed his odds to win the MVP award.
In some ways, that movement justified all of the endless chatter about whether he'll ever learn how to shoot and all of the offseason attention paid to his Instagram workout videos. It's proof that it truly does matter when it comes to evaluating how we collectively assess the Philadelphia 76ers as a title contender and how we view Simmons himself as a game-changing talent.
When Happy Gilmore learned how to putt, he became more than a wunderkind capable of hitting 400-yard drives and quasi-contending. It was the missing link that ultimately vaulted him to another level.
Ben Simmons is done hitting 400-yard drives and piling up regular season triple-doubles.
Ben Simmons just learned how to putt. Watch out.
Toronto defends the throne
There is incredible "nobody believes in us" potential for the Toronto Raptors.
Even though most pencil in the Raptors as a playoff team in 2020, nobody thinks they'll put up much of a fight when it comes to seriously defending their championship. Such is the reality of the situation when Kawhi Leonard opted to join the Clippers.
But this is a proud team.
What happens when Pascal Siakam shows that he's got legitimate staying power as an All-Star? What happens when Kyle Lowry reminds everyone why he's made five straight All-Star teams? What happens when Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Fred VanVleet, Norm Powell and OG Anunoby routinely show up on a nightly basis?
It might not be prudent to expect Toronto to replicate the magic from 2019. But it's equally careless to disregard this team as merely an afterthought.
He's going to do this a lot.
Zion just caught his first body 😱 pic.twitter.com/vymG2QMZbN- New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) October 7, 2019
You just really love to see it.#Zion 👊 #WontBowDown pic.twitter.com/9vV0Rijxet- New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) October 8, 2019
Get used to it 😦 pic.twitter.com/EX9ja2LipG- New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) October 10, 2019
Rookies gotta look out for each other 👀 pic.twitter.com/FUrsUqlf3C- New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) October 10, 2019
Enjoy watching Zion Williamson.
The ultimate wild card
There might not be a bigger wild card in the entire league this season than Michael Porter Jr.
After redshirting last season, the 14th overall pick in the 2018 draft is ready to show the world why he was once considered the best prospect in his class and superstar in waiting.
It's only preseason, but the redshirt rookie has looked sensational as a scorer, getting buckets in a whole host of ways and hinting that as early as this season he could just be the piece that puts the Denver Nuggets over the top.
Michael Porter Jr. connects on a step-back for his first career points ✊#NBAPreseason pic.twitter.com/SJs2BORz9v- NBA TV (@NBATV) October 9, 2019
Right now, the Nuggets are a fun team that might win more games than anyone in the entire league, just as they almost did a year ago. But there's a feeling that there might be a ceiling that falls short of winning it all come June.
That ceiling changes if Porter hits in a way that some think is possible. He's talented enough that the entire balance of power across the NBA landscape could hinge on his play.
The Nets won't really be THE NETS until Kevin Durant takes the floor in a white and black No. 7 jersey.
But until that happens, it's Kyrie Irving's moment to shine in Brooklyn.
Since moving to Brooklyn ahead of the 2012-13 season, the Nets haven't really had a player of Irving's ilk.
Deron Williams was on the downswing. Ditto for Joe Johnson. Ditto for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Brook Lopez was nice, but never approaching All-NBA level.
The best Nets teams have been built around depth and effort moreso than electric star power. In Irving, the Nets have a bankable superstar that can wow crowds in the biggest market in the league. Those crossovers and killer clutch shots will have a little more uumph under the bright lights of the city that never sleeps.
Restoration of Celtic pride
Boston's going to be a wildly entertaining team.
- Kemba Walker is capable of dropping 60
- Jayson Tatum seems poised to make the breakout most thought was coming last year
- Jaylen Brown is playing for a massive deal next summer
- Gordon Hayward is by all accounts back to being Gordon Hayward
- Marcus Smart playing intense D on any and everyone never gets old
- Enes Kanter will become embroiled in a war of words with anyone
One of the benefits of having so many guys with the ability to bring it in a big way is that it makes the viewing experience entirely unpredictable.
Most importantly: they all have something to play for, namely, restoring Celtic pride.
Last season fell far short of expectations and with Walker on board in the spot vacated by Kyrie Irving, the Celtics have a new lease on life and the opportunity to deliver on the immense promise that percolated through the franchise not that long ago.
Splash Brother Steve
Steven Adams took two 3-pointers last season and is 0-7 from beyond the arc for his career.
Which makes this perhaps the most utterly shocking play I've ever seen:
Zero hesitation. Hand in the face. 17 seconds left into the shot clock. Klay-like catch-and-release.
If this is any indication as to where Adams is heading in his seventh season, he's in line for a new nickname.
'Splash Brother Steve' has a great ring to it and even if he doesn't all of the sudden turn into a stretch five overnight like Brook Lopez once did, the idea that plays like this are even on the table brings enough "HE DID WHAT?!?!" for OKC to be a sneaky fun League Pass squad. By the way, in this same game Adams got a rebound then proceeded to rumble all 94 feet leading the break.
Emboldened Steven Adams is my new favourite Steven Adams.
Groundhog Day for Dame and CJ
Raise your hand if this feels familiar.
In a crowded Western Conference with loads of potential playoff teams, a somewhat trendy pick to come up short is the Portland Trail Blazers.
Never mind the fact that Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are coming off their best postseason to date.
Never mind the fact Portland just won 53 games and made the playoffs for the sixth straight year.
Never mind the fact that Portland re-made the rotation around those two to help shore up some deficiences.
At this point, doubting the Blazers heading into the regular season almost feels like an October tradition unlike any other.
Just know that every time Portland gets counted out, the dynamic backcourt duo of Lillard and McCollum deliver the goods and squash any lingering doubt. Two of the best shot makers in the league in a single backcourt makes for compelling drama with clutch-time heroics and late-game daggers seemingly routine.
Donovan Mitchell's ascension to superstardom
There's a case to be made that Mitchell might be the third-best player on his own team.
Rudy Gobert is the two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Mike Conley is perhaps the most dependable point guard in the league and universally beloved as a teammate.
Neither have made an All-Star team and could make a legitimate case to the tite of "best active player that's never made an All-Star team."
So of course both stand to be potentially overlooked in favour of a 23-year-old entering his third year that's coming off a horrendous postseason.
And yet Mitchell is intoxicating. Or more accurately, the idea of Mitchell is intoxicating.
An insanely athletic guard that can get to the cup at ease, that explodes to finish through traffic, that's a capable shooter off the bounce from deep, that's got worlds of potential on the defensive end... it doesn't take much imagination to see why some look at him and see the second coming of Dwyane Wade.
Prime D-Wade, who won an NBA title in his third season, was a "don't turn the channel" stud.
So if that is what's on tap for Mitchell, then with apologies to Gobert and Conley, it's his show in Utah and one that's going to be impossible to turn off.
The team nobody wants to play
The Miami Heat play HARD.
There's not a team in the league known for it's schoolyard, no-blood-no-foul smothering mentality than Eric Spoelstra's bunch in South Beach.
That was before they added Jimmy Butler.
With Butler, Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo and James Johnson, Miami has a nucleus that loves nothing more than to body up, talk smack and make life absolutely miserable for all comers. They won't be intimidated and they won't back down from anyone. If hard-nosed grit is your thing, the Miami Heat will be worth following all season long.
They also have big numbers on short-term contracts which means the team that takes the floor in October might not be a finished product or as strong as the one which takes the floor next spring in a wide open Eastern Conference.
The forgotten unicorn
We love dudes that break molds. Particularly ones that are huge.
Giannis Antetokounmpo. Anthony Davis. Joel Embiid.
In a league full of 7-foot unicorns, there's perhaps nobody more forgotten than Kristaps Porzingis, who is back and ready to wreak havoc on an NBA court for the first time in 20 months. It's been so long since he's played that you'll be forgiven for forgetting just how special and unique Porzingis truly is.
I don't have an offseason training montage that shows him on the comeback trail, but I do have this:
"I must break you."- The Crossover (@TheCrossover) August 14, 2019
Kristaps Porzingis is in the gym looking a lot like Ivan Drago
(via @kporzee) pic.twitter.com/1SDNz7wmxU
"Hey, did you remember that Porzingis was 7'3"?!?!"
"Hey, did you see Porzingis stuff Giannis at the rim on back-to-back plays?"
"Hey, did you see Porzingis dunk on three guys on a fastbreak?
"Hey, did you see Porzingis drain seven 3s?"
Those are all things you'll probably say at one point this season. And for what it's worth, in the last regular season that he played way back in February of 2018, he actually did stuff Giannis at the rim... twice.
Becky Hammon will make history
The Spurs are vying for their 23rd consecutive playoff appearance which would set an all-time NBA record.
LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan are both capable of scoring 50 on any given night.
Dejounte Murray and Derrick White are potential breakout stars.
Gregg Popovich is capable of dropping memorable sound bites before, during or after games and under any context.
And none of it means as much as the fact that at some point, Becky Hammon will likely be in charge on the Spurs sideline. When NBA coaches are ejected, head coaching responsibiliies are typically assumed by the team's longest-tenured assistant, which after the offseason departures of Ettore Messina and Ime Udoka, now falls on the shoulders of Hammon.
Given that Popovich has been sent packing at least once in each of the last seven seasons, the odds are that at some point Hammon will blaze a trail as the first woman to call the shots for an NBA team. It will pale in the comparison to the day if/when Hammon officially becomes a head coach, but it's still a milestone that will go down as more than merely a footnote in the league's long history of firsts.
There's no telling when it's going to happen which means the easiest way to ensure you don't miss out on history it to simply watch all 82 of San Antonio's regular season games. Easy enough!
More than 'League Pass' darlings?
The Sacramento Kings were everyone's favourite 'League Pass' team last season to the point where halfway through the regular season, anytime someone mentioned that their under-the-radar team to watch was the Kings, you'd be well within your right to stop them mid-sentence and say "yeah, they're everyone's favourites, they aren't under-the-radar."
The Kings have missed the playoffs in each of the last 13 seasons with last year's 39-43 team not only the most entertaining one over that span, but also the one that came the closest to finishing .500.
Making the playoffs in a loaded West will be hard, but there's enough talent to do it.
With new coach Luke Walton at the helm, the lineup of De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Bojan Bogdanovic, Harrison Barnes and Marvin Bagley has the firepower to finish as one of the league's best offensive units. If they can defend, Sacramento will graduate from 'League Pass' darling and return to the postseason for the first time since 2006.
Devin Booker is 22-years old and already has three 50-point games. That's as many as LeBron James had by the same age and more than Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant. In fact, the only player in NBA history with more of them prior to turning 23 is Hall of Famer Rick Barry.
All of that to say... WATCH DEVIN BOOKER!
At some point, Booker and the Suns will eventually start winning games at a competitive clip. It's unlikely to be this season, but that doesn't mean the Suns aren't worth monitoring.
Booker is as gifted a young scorer as we've ever seen and he's gotten better in each of his four seasons. With Ricky Rubio feeding him the ball and allowing Booker to concentrate on doing what he does best, it's not out of the question that Booker could contend for a scoring title this season.
Every scoring champ is worth watching, which could make Booker appointment viewing.
Purity and poetry: a Malcolm Brogdon story
I've never seen Malcolm Brogdon make a poor decision with the basketball in his hands.***
Coming off a 50-40-90 season with the Milwaukee Bucks, Brogdon is now suiting up for the Pacers which is perfect given that Indiana is a hoops hotbed that worships things like fundamentally sound decision making, crisp defensive rotations and solid shooting mechanics. He's the perfect point guard to slot in alongside Victor Oladipo who will return to the lineup at some point as he continues his recovery from a torn Achilles sustained last season.
With Oladipo out and no established secondary star to fill the void, Brogdon could be on the cusp of somewhat of a star-making season. He turns 27 in December so even if there's not a ton of untapped athletic potential, Brogdon certainly has the chance to capitalize on the opportunity for a bigger load which wasn't always the case playing with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe in Milwaukee.
Attention all of you aspiring basketball players out there: watch Malcolm Brogdon.
Attention all of you former players turned couch commentators: watch Malcolm Brogdon.
He's far more than a really good role player and warrants the increased spotlight he's about to get over the first third of the season.
***At least as far as I can remember.
The NBA's best fantasy basketball player
Karl-Anthony Towns is not in the discussion for best player in the league.
He is, however, in discussion for best fantasy player in the league.
After the change from Tom Thibodeau to Ryan Saunders midway through last season, Towns operated as the 6th-best player in fantasy behind only James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Russell Westbrook, Joel Embiid and LeBron James.
Harden and Westbrook now share the ball, James will cede some to Anthony Davis while Embiid is likely to play fewer minutes and give up a larger load to Ben Simmons.
With Derrick Rose and Dario Saric no longer in Minnesota, it's not inconceivable that Towns out-fantasies Antetokounmpo or any of the others en route to finishing as the best player in fantasy. Stat-stuffing is fun which makes Karl-Anthony Towns and the Minnesota Timberwolves fun.
Mystery Man Markelle
There can't be two ultimate wild cards. Since the aforementioned Michael Porter Jr. already holds that title in this space, we'll just refer to Markelle Fultz as the 2019-20 NBA season's Mystery Man.
Nobody has absolutely any idea what to expect.
Will he be the best guard on a playoff team and flash the superstar potential that once made him a No. 1 overall pick? Will he be out of the rotation and off the team by February? Will he be playing 14 minutes a game off the bench behind D.J. Augustin?
The spectrum of possibilies for Fultz runs off the charts in either direction and it makes him one of the season's most compelling players to watch.
The NBA's most exciting young duo
What will be the league's best duo this season? It might be LeBron and AD. Or Kawhi and PG13. Or Harden and Westbrook. Or Simmons and Embiid. There's plenty of viable answers.
OK now... what will be the league's best duo five years from now?
Nobody knows of course, but one certainly worth throwing into the ring for consideration is Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.
MORE: The definitive ranking of all 30 NBA top duos
There's only so much you can extrapolate from preseason hoops, especially when opening up against two teams that don't play in the NBA. But in his first two games, Ja Morant dished out 17 assists in just 39 minutes of action. The biggest beneficiary? JJJ.
A top of the key pick and pop for an open 3. A lob over the top of an unsuspecting weakside. A simple drive and dish for an open dunk. A patient and probing feed on a pick and roll.
There was a little bit of everything in the Morant-JJJ partnership the first two times they shared the floor and it's a partnership that has all the makings of a someday elite 1-2 punch.
Get in now so you can be the first to say "I told you so."
Can RJ Barrett revive MSG?
The Knicks have 41 home games this season.
There's going to be at least one of them in which the rookie swingman goes off for 35, outduels an established star down the stretch in the fourth quarter and bangs in the game-winning shot before a delirious crowd that chants M-V-P.
Barrett will flash that million dollar smile and declare into the microphone that this is what he's dreamed of his whole life. He'll mention that this is merely the first of many great times yet to come in Madison Square Garden which will send an already delirious crowd into absolute pandemonium.
He's not afraid of the moment and he's relished the opportunity to play for the Knicks. Only time will tell if Barrett turns out to be the saviour that Knicks fans have craved for so long, but he'll get every opportunity from Day 1 to plant his flag in the metaphorical ground of The Garden.
For a team that's missed the playoffs in each of the last six seasons and has just one playoff series win in Barrett's lifetime, it's more likely than not that one of those 41 home games will result in the franchise's most memorable moment since Linsanity swept New York in February 2012.
From WAAAAYYYYYYYYY downtown
There's a case to be made that the most defining part of Stephen Curry's unanimous MVP season in 2015-16 isn't any particular moment, but rather the repeated instances where he just pulled up from 30 feet and cashed in a deep 3 that for every other human being on the planet would be deemed a terrible shot.
That was Curry in his seventh season as a 27-year-old at the absolute peak of his powers.
He drained 21 shots that season from at least 30 feet out.
Trae Young is not impressed.
As a 20-year-old rookie, Young splashed in a league-leading 24 of them.
If Curry's rise represents a defining moment in which kids all over the world started wanting to Be Like Steph, Young's arrival represents the manifestation of that movement. He shoots it from everywhere, throws dazzling dimes and puts the ball between defender's legs.
Sure, he turns it over a ton and he's a traffic cone on D. But Trae Young dials in from long distance and it's well worth the roaming fees to take it all in.
Don't take Blake Griffin for granted
How will you remember Blake Griffin?
When it's all said and done, Griffin's NBA tombstone will in all likelihood focus on Lob City and his prominent role on a Clippers team that contended for years throughout his prime.
But don't take 'Detroit Blake Griffin' for granted. After all... he just turned in arguably the best season of his career.
Care to guess how many players in NBA history have career averages of at least 21 points, nine rebounds and four assists per game?
Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird, Elgin Baylor...
... and Blake Griffin.
Though health is a question mark and it feels as if he's been around forever, Griffin just turned 30 years old this past spring. It's hard to find star players that consistently bring more effort than Griffin whose heart and determination have already won over fans in Detroit.
Zach LaVine's audacity
Sometimes, half of the battle is believing that you belong.
For all of his limitations - and make no mistake, there are several - Zach LaVine believes that he belongs.
If the game is close and there are buckets to be had, LaVine wants the ball in his hands for better or for worse.
No player in the NBA took more game-tying or go-ahead shots in the final two minutes than LaVine who went 13-31, nearly as many attempts as the rest of his teammates combined (33) and over five times as many as any other Bulls player (Lauri Markkanen was next with six).
Before scoffing at that 41.9 FG percentage on those shots, just know that it was better than the likes of Damian Lillard, Kemba Walker, Kevin Durant, Paul George and Russell Westbrook and right on par with James Harden.
The Bulls added quality veterans Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky and drafted promising rookie Coby White which should mean a larger number of competitive games.
Which means more of LaVine believing in LaVine, which is a wonderful thing.
Rookie of the Year sleeper
Zion Williamson is unequivocally the favourite for Rookie of the Year. That was true before the preseason and it's almost certainly a certiable fact now that we've seen him in action.
Let's just say you had to pick someone else. Ja Morant, RJ Barrett, Darius Garland and Michael Porter Jr. are probably the first names to roll off the tip of your tongue.
But don't sleep on Rui Hachimura.
A consensus first-team All-American during his third and final season at Gonzaga during which he averaged over 19 points per game on an efficient 59% shooting, Hachimura has tons of skill for a player his size and plays extremely hard. He's got a great in-between game and is relentless in both the half court and in transition. Bradley Beal is desperately in need of some help and Hachimura will have the opportunity to hit the ground running in Year 1.
Miles Bridges will dunk on you
There's no more Kemba Walker in Charlotte which means there's a window for Bridges to become THE guy with the Hornets.
Although he'll be the first to openly criticize his overall play as a rookie, one aspect of his game not worth criticizing: dunking.
More specifically, dunking on everyone.
I'm sorry but anyone who can do that deserves your time and attention.
The next Damian Lillard?
There's a reason we play "the next Insert Name Here" game. It's a lot easier to imagine Version 2.0 of something we've already seen rather than the first iteration of anything.
Damian Lillard is an absolute stud, a bonafide franchise game changer that's unequivocally one of the best guards in an era dominated by score-first playmakers. A relatively unknown quantity coming out of college, Lillard exploded onto the scene as a gifted bucket getter off the bounce after being taken in the lottery and never looked back.
If you look closely, you'll see plenty of Lillard in the game of Cleveland rookie Darius Garland who only played four whole games in college before a meniscus injury ended his brief stint at Vanderbilt.
He didn't play in Summer League either which means unless you're locked into Cavaliers' preseason action, there's a good chance that Garland will be making a first impression to lots of NBA fans once the regular season kicks into gear.
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