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NBA Power Rankings – Why the season’s final month starts with a new No. 1 team

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A few quality wins have propelled the Philadelphia 76ers back into our No. 1 spot.

Joel Embiid and the 76ers have won four straight, with the past three coming against playoff teams in the LA Clippers, Brooklyn Nets and Dallas Mavericks. The Utah Jazz, meanwhile, have dropped two of their past four games, including a 12-point overtime loss to a Los Angeles Lakers squad that continues to play without injured stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

The Eastern Conference is boasting plenty of streaking teams right now: The Boston Celtics, once in danger of a date in the play-in, have won six straight to tie the Atlanta Hawks for the No. 4 seed.

The New York Knicks continue to impress, as they’ve won six straight to reach four games over .500 this late in the season for the first time since 2012-13, according to ESPN Stats and Information research.

And the Washington Wizards have won four straight — climbing into the play-in mix in the process — behind some vintage performances from Russell Westbrook.

Only four weeks remain in the 2020-21 regular season. Here’s where our panel sees all 30 NBA teams right now.

Note: Throughout the regular season, our panel (ESPN’s Tim Bontemps, Nick Friedell, Andrew Lopez, Tim MacMahon, Dave McMenamin, Royce Young and Ohm Youngmisuk) is ranking all 30 teams from top to bottom, taking stock of which teams are playing the best basketball now and which teams are looking most like title contenders.

Previous rankings: Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11 | Week 12 | Week 13 | Week 14 | Week 15 | Week 16 | Week 17

1. Philadelphia 76ers
2020-21 record: 39-17
Previous ranking: 4

The past seven days were massive for the Sixers, who moved a full three games clear of the Nets (including tiebreakers) for the top spot in the Eastern Conference with 16 games to play. That gives Philadelphia the inside track to claim that top spot — and thus only having to beat either Brooklyn or Milwaukee to advance out of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Still, two games in Milwaukee loom later this week that, if the Sixers lose them, could throw the race back up in the air again. — Bontemps

This week: GSW, PHO, @MIL, @MIL


2. Utah Jazz
2020-21 record: 42-15
Previous ranking: 1

Donovan Mitchell is expected to miss several games due to his sprained right ankle, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a rough stretch for the Jazz. Utah is 3-1 in games missed by Mitchell this season, and they pulled off a second-half comeback to beat the Pacers after he was injured Friday. The lone loss was in overtime on Saturday to the Lakers, when fellow All-Stars Rudy Gobert and Mike Conley Jr. also rested for the second game of a back-to-back. Utah’s starting lineup with Joe Ingles replacing Mitchell has a plus-18 net rating in 54 minutes. — MacMahon

This week: @LAL, @HOU, MIN


3. Phoenix Suns
2020-21 record: 40-16
Previous ranking: 2

Phoenix’s 10-game home winning streak came to an end on Saturday against the Spurs, but the Suns still finished the week just a game and a half back of the Jazz for the top spot in the Western Conference. Also, there was another milestone achieved by Suns guard Chris Paul, who moved into fifth place on the all-time steals list by passing Maurice Cheeks. Earlier this season, Paul moved into sixth place on the all-time assists list, and he could be up to fifth place soon, as he is just nine dimes away from tying Magic Johnson. — Lopez

This week: @MIL, @PHI, @BOS, @BRK


4. Brooklyn Nets
2020-21 record: 38-19
Previous ranking: 3

It was a difficult week for the Nets, who (A) lost their showdown against the Sixers for the top seed in the East, (B) no longer have LaMarcus Aldridge, who abruptly retired because of a health issue, (C) might be without Kevin Durant — again — after he injured his thigh on Sunday against the Heat and (D) lost to Miami on a heartbreaking Bam Adebayo buzzer-beater. — Young

This week: @NOP, @TOR, BOS, PHO


5. LA Clippers
2020-21 record: 40-19
Previous ranking: 5

The Clippers saw their seven-game winning streak snapped in Philadelphia on Friday, but Kawhi Leonard did not play due to a foot injury. The Clippers enjoyed a few notable developments during that streak that could pay off come playoff time. Paul George rediscovered his revenge-season groove by scoring 30 or more in five straight games. Marcus Morris, Reggie Jackson, Ivica Zubac, Rajon Rondo, Terance Mann, Luke Kennard and Patrick Patterson all stepped up at moments with key players out. The most important things for coach Ty Lue’s team entering the final stretch is getting healthy (Leonard returned, but Patrick Beverley and Serge Ibaka remain out), developing chemistry and continuity — especially when back at full strength — and seeding as the Clips keep the pressure on Utah and Phoenix at the top of the West. — Youngmisuk

This week: @POR, MEM, @HOU


6. Milwaukee Bucks
2020-21 record: 35-21
Previous ranking: 7

This is a huge week for the Bucks, who sit four games behind the first-place 76ers and two in the loss column behind the second-place Nets in the Eastern Conference standings. With games against Phoenix on Monday followed by two home games against Philadelphia on Thursday and Saturday, it will be big to see just how good the new-look Bucks really are. — Bontemps

This week: PHO, PHI, PHI, @ATL


7. Los Angeles Lakers
2020-21 record: 35-22
Previous ranking: 8

In June 2019, during an appearance on ESPN’s First Take, Snoop Dogg dropped bars that didn’t make the iTunes charts but sounded sweet to the ears of Lakers’ fans. “AD is on the way,” he sang, as a guest on the set. It’s a tune that Lakers Nation will want to punch into the jukebox this week as Anthony Davis is primed to return from a two-month hiatus while recovering from a calf strain and tendinosis in his right leg. — McMenamin

This week: UTA, @DAL, @DAL


8. Denver Nuggets
2020-21 record: 36-20
Previous ranking: 6

It was the worst week of the season for the Nuggets, and it had nothing to do with wins and losses. Jamal Murray tore his left ACL on a drive in traffic in the last minute of a loss at Golden State, delivering a devastating blow to Denver’s title hopes. The Nuggets, who acquired Aaron Gordon and JaVale McGee to better match up with other West contenders such as the Lakers and the Clippers, now will have to try to get back to the Western Conference finals without their bubble postseason star who is capable of dropping 50 points any night. Nikola Jokic will look to continue his MVP play, and Michael Porter Jr. moves into the role of Denver’s No. 2 guy. — Youngmisuk

This week: MEM, @POR, @GSW, HOU


9. Boston Celtics
2020-21 record: 31-26
Previous ranking: 13

After a season’s worth of ups and downs, the Celtics are playing their best ball, having won six straight and eight of their past nine. Keeping that streak alive won’t get any easier this week, however, as following Monday’s home game against Chicago is a brutal back-to-back: home against Phoenix on Thursday, before playing at Brooklyn on Friday. — Bontemps

This week: CHI, PHO, @BRK, @CHA


10. Portland Trail Blazers
2020-21 record: 32-24
Previous ranking: 10

The Blazers are slipping perilously close to a play-in spot, just two games up on the Mavericks for the seventh seed. They’ve lost six of their past nine, and the schedule ahead isn’t forgiving. Some of the issue has been with Damian Lillard not pouring in his standard ridiculous performances, but as Lillard said this week, it’s more from the way opposing teams have adjusted to defending him than some kind of shooting slump. Defenses are forcing him to give the ball up and redirect the offense to his teammates. But at some point, if the Blazers continue to slide, Lillard might have to start forcing the issue. And there are few better at doing it. — Young

This week: LAC, DEN, MEM, MEM


11. Dallas Mavericks
2020-21 record: 30-26
Previous ranking: 9

The Mavericks certainly aren’t performing like a team that deserves to avoid the play-in tournament that Luka Doncic and Mark Cuban publicly grumbled about last week. Dallas has blown a golden opportunity to move up the West standings with the Trail Blazers struggling, but the Mavs have matched Portland’s 2-5 slump. Doncic cited energy as the Mavs’ primary issue, not that he has a solution. “I don’t know, but all I know is it’s got to start with me,” Doncic said Sunday after the Kings snapped a nine-game losing streak at the Mavs’ expense. — MacMahon

This week: DET, LAL, LAL


12. Atlanta Hawks
2020-21 record: 31-26
Previous ranking: 12

A healthy Bogdan Bogdanovic has proved to be the player the Hawks thought they were getting in the offseason. After injuries derailed much of his season, Bogdanovic has averaged 20.5 points (second on the team, behind Trae Young), 4.2 assists and 4.1 rebounds, while shooting 50.3% from the field and 49.5% from 3-point range on 8.1 attempts a game in his past 13, all starts. — Lopez

This week: ORL, @NYK, MIA, MIL


13. Miami Heat
2020-21 record: 29-28
Previous ranking: 11

The Heat were having an ugly week, having lost three straight, including a Friday night defeat to the lowly Timberwolves. But Bam Adebayo’s jumper at the buzzer to beat the Nets on Sunday gives the group a chance to get things rolling again. Six of the Heat’s next seven games are against teams under .500. Adebayo is averaging 19.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists over his past three games. — Friedell

This week: HOU, @SAS, @ATL, CHI


14. New York Knicks
2020-21 record: 31-27
Previous ranking: 16

Despite having one of the league’s most difficult schedules in the second half of the season, the Knicks have kept winning, including Sunday’s dramatic overtime victory against the Pelicans at Madison Square Garden. Now, the goal for the Knicks isn’t just making the play-in tournament, which would’ve been seen as a huge success before the season began. They have a real chance to finish among the top six in the East and qualifying for the playoffs automatically. — Bontemps

This week: CHA, ATL, TOR


15. Memphis Grizzlies
2020-21 record: 29-26
Previous ranking: 15

It was quite a week for shooting guard Grayson Allen, as he averaged 18.5 points on 53.3% shooting (including 20-of-37 from 3-point range) while the Grizzlies won three of four games. But Allen took the brunt of the blame for a loss to the Mavericks, when his pair of missed free throws with 2.2 seconds remaining left the door open for Luka Doncic to win it with a miraculous buzzer-beater, leading to a postgame tweet from Ja Morant chastising Grizzlies fans who were “bashing any of my teammates.” — MacMahon

This week: @DEN, @LAC, @POR, @POR


16. Charlotte Hornets
2020-21 record: 28-28
Previous ranking: 14

Sunday’s win over the Damian Lillard-less Trail Blazers snapped a four-game losing streak and helped Charlotte get back on track, while continuing to deal with the losses of LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward. Terry Rozier and Miles Bridges continue to carry the group most nights, with Bridges trying to take another step in his development. The 23-year-old is averaging 24 points over his past three games. — Friedell

This week: @NYK, @CHI, CLE, BOS


17. Golden State Warriors
2020-21 record: 28-29
Previous ranking: 20

Stephen Curry is playing some of the best basketball of his certain Hall of Fame career. With 47 points in Saturday’s loss to the Celtics, Curry tied Kobe Bryant for the most consecutive 30-point games (10) by a player 33 or older, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Curry’s brilliance not only pushed the Warriors to a season-high four-game win streak last week, it helped the organization find a positive in a week when rookie James Wiseman had to have season-ending knee surgery. — Friedell

This week: @PHI, @WAS, DEN, SAC


18. San Antonio Spurs
2020-21 record: 27-28
Previous ranking: 17

After tough losses to Toronto and Portland, San Antonio bounced back with a 111-85 win against the Suns despite resting DeMar DeRozan, Patty Mills and Jakob Poeltl, a move that caused the NBA to fine the organization $25,000 for violating the league’s player resting policy. San Antonio entered the Phoenix game as a 12-point underdog and came away with a 26-point win. It is tied for the second-largest win by a 12-point underdog in the past 30 seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. — Lopez

This week: @IND, MIA, DET, @NOP


19. Indiana Pacers
2020-21 record: 26-30
Previous ranking: 18

It isn’t out of the ordinary to see wild differences in a team’s record at home versus on the road, but typically teams are much better in the friendly confines of their own building. This season’s Pacers are not typical. Indiana sports a 9-16 record at home, making them the only team in the Eastern Conference without 10 such wins. On the flip side, the Pacers have 17 victories on the road, which ties them with Milwaukee and Philadelphia for the most road wins in the East. — Lopez

This week: SAS, OKC, DET, @ORL


20. New Orleans Pelicans
2020-21 record: 25-32
Previous ranking: 19

The Pelicans held a six-point lead with 1:48 to go against the Knicks on Sunday and managed to lose in overtime, in part because of two bad mistakes on the Knicks’ final play in regulation. According to ESPN Stats & Information data, it was the sixth time in Pelicans’ franchise history that the team led by six points with under two minutes and failed to come out with a win. It’s also the second time that’s happened to the Pelicans this season; they also fell against the Pacers on Jan. 4. — Lopez

This week: BRK, @ORL, SAS


21. Toronto Raptors
2020-21 record: 24-34
Previous ranking: 23

The Zombie Raptors won’t go away. Even after all of the disasters that have befallen the team over the past several weeks, Toronto still finds itself back in the final play-in spot in the East after winning three straight games last week. The schedule doesn’t get any easier for them moving forward, but if the Raptors want to finish 10th, they should have more than enough to hold off Chicago and Washington. — Bontemps

This week: BRK, @NYK


22. Washington Wizards
2020-21 record: 23-33
Previous ranking: 24

Don’t look now, but the Wizards’ roller-coaster season is heading back up in the right direction. And just in time. Thanks to Russell Westbrook‘s triple-double resurgence, the Wizards have won four straight and six of their past seven games. Westbrook has a triple-double in 11 of his past 13 games and has averaged 22.5 points, 13.6 rebounds and 11.6 assists in April. Bradley Beal is getting hot again, as well, scoring 30 or more in the past four contests. Washington is now tied with the Bulls at 23-33 and is one game back in the win column of Toronto, which is currently 10th in the East. — Youngmisuk

This week: OKC, GSW, @OKC, CLE


23. Chicago Bulls
2020-21 record: 23-33
Previous ranking: 21

The Bulls snapped a five-game skid on Saturday by beating the Cavs, but that still didn’t ease the pain of losing All-Star swingman Zach LaVine for an undetermined amount of time because of COVID-19 protocols. LaVine’s absence underscores just how much this team has struggled since dealing for Nikola Vucevic just prior to the trade deadline. The Bulls are just 4-9 since making the move, and Lauri Markkanen is averaging just 8.4 points and 4.2 assists over 10 April games. — Friedell

This week: @BOS, @CLE, CHA, @MIA


24. Sacramento Kings
2020-21 record: 23-34
Previous ranking: 22

On the road and staring a potential 10-game losing streak in the face, the Kings showed some signs of life on Sunday, beating the Mavericks 121-107 in a game Sacramento never trailed. Luka Doncic might have outscored De’Aaron Fox 37 to 30, but Fox had 12 assists and zero turnovers as compared to Doncic’s 4-to-4 assist-to-turnover ratio. — McMenamin

This week: MIN, MIN, @GSW


25. Cleveland Cavaliers
2020-21 record: 20-36
Previous ranking: 25

The Cavs and Warriors faced off this week, and it was a bittersweet reminder of how much has changed since their annual battles in the NBA Finals. While Stephen Curry (33 points) and Draymond Green (10 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks) closely approximated their production from the good ol’ days, Cleveland’s only remnants were Kevin Love (five points on 6-for-10 shooting and 6 rebounds) and Matthew Dellavedova (zero points and 3 assists) harkening back to that golden age. — McMenamin

This week: @DET, CHI, @CHA, @WAS


26. Oklahoma City Thunder
2020-21 record: 20-37
Previous ranking: 26

The Thunder have lost 10 straight, their longest losing streak since 2008, when they lost 14 in a row during their inaugural season in OKC (which resulted in head coach PJ Carlesimo being replaced by Scott Brooks). It has dropped them to the fifth-worst record in the league and only a couple of games behind (ahead?) of the Magic for the fourth worst. But as has been a theme throughout the season, even with an apparent low spot, there are good things happening in OKC. Luguentz Dort erupted for a career-high 42 against the Jazz, then followed it up with 26 against Detroit and 29 against Toronto. — Young

This week: @WAS, @IND, WAS


27. Detroit Pistons
2020-21 record: 17-40
Previous ranking: 27

The rebuilding Pistons played the Thunder last week, and Detroit won, without Jerami Grant in the lineup, thanks to some standout performances. Former lottery pick Josh Jackson scored 29 points, and rookies Isaiah Stewart (15 points, 21 rebounds) and Saddiq Bey (18 points) came up big. — McMenamin

This week: CLE, @DAL, @SAS, @IND


28. Orlando Magic
2020-21 record: 18-39
Previous ranking: 28

Wendell Carter Jr. got some revenge on the Bulls, who traded him last month as part of a package for Nikola Vucevic, during Wednesday’s win. Carter had 19 points and 12 rebounds, and he continues to show promise since arriving in Orlando. — Friedell

This week: @ATL, NOP, IND


29. Minnesota Timberwolves
2020-21 record: 15-43
Previous ranking: 29

Some of the positive momentum that came with D’Angelo Russell‘s return has dissolved, but the Wolves have to be encouraged with their progress under coach Chris Finch. They have played with better pace, better discipline and more structure. And maybe biggest of all, Karl-Anthony Towns is evolving with a role that features him more in space and as a creator, similar to how the Nuggets utilize Nikola Jokic’s skill set. — Young

This week: @SAC, @SAC, @UTA


30. Houston Rockets
2020-21 record: 15-42
Previous ranking: 30

Jae’Sean Tate, the undrafted 25-year-old forward who began his professional career in Australia, has been a consistent bright spot during the Rockets’ rough season, emerging as an All-Rookie candidate. Tate has averaged 11.1 points on 52.7% shooting and 5.4 rebounds, joining Charlotte’s LaMelo Ball as the only rookies to average at least 10 points, five rebounds and one steal. Tate leads the rookie class in win shares (3.7), according to basketball-reference.com. — MacMahon

This week: @MIA, UTA, LAC, @DEN

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Gregg Popovich misses San Antonio Spurs game to attend Tim Duncan’s Hall of Fame enshrinement

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UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Gregg Popovich took Saturday off, for good reason. There was no way he was going to miss Tim Duncan’s enshrinement into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

The San Antonio Spurs played Saturday afternoon without their head coach after Popovich made the decision to fly to Connecticut to see Duncan — with whom he won five NBA championships — officially go into the Hall alongside Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and six others.

The bond between Popovich and Duncan started getting forged in 1997, when the Spurs were about to use the No. 1 pick in that year’s draft on the forward who was coming off a stellar career at Wake Forest. Popovich flew to the Virgin Islands, Duncan’s home, and wanted to learn everything about him.

The chemistry was immediate, and it has lasted.

“It started there, it started with him going out of his way to want to know who I was as a person, wanting to meet my friends, wanting to meet my father, sit down and speak with him,” Duncan said. “It started there. And he built that trust from early on, just trying to understand who I was — not just as a basketball player, but as a person and beyond.”

Popovich said earlier this month that he still marvels at Duncan’s story, how a kid from the islands just happened to become one of the best players to touch a basketball.

“I do, especially since he was a swimmer and wanted to be an Olympian, as far as that goes. So, it’s a pretty incredible story. Everybody knows the story, but it’s true. That’s something that we’re all very happy about. We still toast him when we have dinners; as we’ve said before, ‘Thank you, Timmy.'”

Popovich had another compelling reason to attend. He quietly championed the Hall candidacy of Rudy Tomjanovich for years; Tomjanovich, the two-time champion coach of the Houston Rockets in 1994 and 1995, also finally will be enshrined as part of this Hall class.

“I never really understood why he was continually overlooked,” Popovich said of Tomjanovich. “I mean, as much success as he had, year in and year out, and the championships he won were really hard-fought. He came from the lower end of the rankings in both situations to just gut it out. He was the coach of the Olympic teams and got a gold medal. He was a class act. His players loved him. He has the game in his blood. I always thought he was an obvious choice. So, for it to finally happen, is just a wonderful thing for him and his family and all of us who are his friends.”

Popovich is not in the Hall of Fame, though it is widely assumed that his call is coming in the not-too-distant future. He is not a finalist for the 2021 class, which will be announced on Sunday and enshrined in September.

The enshrinement ceremony for this year was moved to the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut largely because of the additional space it provides for a socially distanced event that adheres to protocols put in place for gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic. The 2021 enshrinement ceremony, scheduled for September, is tentatively scheduled to return to the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts — with some parts of that weekend back at Mohegan Sun as well.

The Spurs’ game Saturday didn’t mean much to San Antonio standings-wise; the Spurs will be the No. 10 seed and be on the road for a play-in tournament game at either Memphis or Golden State on Wednesday. For their opponent, the Phoenix Suns, it still meant something — which is why Suns coach Monty Williams didn’t hop on a plane like Popovich did.

Williams has never chartered a private jet. He almost did, just so he could be there with Duncan as well.

“I’m really happy for Tim,” said Williams, a former Spurs assistant. “He’s meant so much, not just to the community of basketball, but meant so much to me. He’s one of my best friends. I’ve been able to live vicariously through him. Some of the highs of his career, I’ve been able to watch when he’s able to achieve something or had something cool going on.”

The last time Popovich missed an entire Spurs game was March 3, 2020 — a matchup when Duncan, who spent last season as a San Antonio assistant, filled in against Charlotte. Duncan got the role that night because he was the assistant coach in charge of that game’s scouting report; for the same reasons, Mitch Johnson got to fill the head coach role Saturday against Phoenix.

“We approach it the same way we always do — collaborate, work as a team, approach the game as a group in terms of what can help the guys and try to put them in positions to be successful,” Johnson said.

Popovich is expected back in San Antonio for Sunday’s regular-season finale, also against Phoenix.

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LeBron James to play against Indiana Pacers after six games out

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As the Los Angeles Lakers seek to win out and avoid the play-in tournament, LeBron James is set for his return Saturday against the Indiana Pacers, according to coach Frank Vogel.

James has missed the past six games to continue to recover from a high ankle sprain, but he practiced Friday and Vogel told reporters that the All-Star would play Saturday.

Vogel said Dennis Schroder, out the past seven games because of the league’s health and safety protocols, also will play against the Pacers. Alex Caruso is available as well, but Vogel said he may keep him out.

Currently the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference, the Lakers can move up to at least No. 6 and avoid the play-in tournament if they win Saturday against the Pacers and Sunday against the New Orleans Pelicans and if Portland Trail Blazers lose to the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.

ESPN’s Dave McMenamin contributed to this report.

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Source — Ex-Detroit Pistons star Ben Wallace part of Basketball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2021

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Former Detroit Pistons star center Ben Wallace will be inducted into the Class of 2021 for the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame, a source told ESPN’s The Undefeated on Saturday.

Wallace and the entire 2021 class will be announced on Sunday at the museum in Springfield, Mass.

Wallace was best-known for his defense as he was a four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year. The former HBCU Virginia Union star won a 2004 NBA championship with the Pistons and also was a four-time NBA All-Star. He has his No. 3 jersey retired with the Pistons.

Wallace began his college basketball career at Cuyahoga Community College (Ohio) before transferring to Virginia Union where he was a first-team Division II All-American in 1996.

After going undrafted by the NBA in 1996, he played for the Washington Bullets/Wizards and Orlando Magic before becoming a star with the Pistons. The Pistons’ all-time leader in blocks also played for the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers. Wallace is currently a co-owner of the G League Grand Rapids Drive and has coaching aspirations.

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