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NBA

Looking for answers. Jonathan Daniel/NBAE/Getty Images

ROCKY ROAD
Denver might miss the playoffs—and no one can agree as to why.

What's wrong with the Nuggets? With two All-Star starters and the reigning DPOY, they should be title contenders, right? Yet as of March 5, they were fighting for the final West playoff spot. So what's rocky in the mountains? We asked center Marcus Camby, a rival exec and stats guru John Hollinger to break down Denver's problems. Their responses weren't even on the same page. Shocker.

THE PLAYER "We don't have a lot of defensive-minded players. We have so much firepower that sometimes we get into the mind-set that we can outscore people, even though our film sessions are always about defense first.

"We struggle with transition D partly because AI and Melo penetrate a lot. If they miss, they won't get back quickly enough. We take a lot of quick shots, too, and I'm usually the only one back because I've started the break. So we've got to get our wings back faster to help.

"If you told us we'd be 12 games over .500 in March with all these injuries, we would have been happy. But if we don't make the playoffs, this season is a total failure. I don't care how good the West is. Our roster is as good as anyone's."

THE EXEC "Denver needs a knockdown shooter like Mike Miller, Jason Kapono
or Kyle Korver. Plus, the Nuggets don't execute in the clutch because they have too many do-it-yourself players. AI dribbles too much, or Carmelo goes one-on-one too much. Those two think they have to make the play. Plus, neither defends."

THE STATS GURU "The problem isn't D; they give up so many points only because they play a fast pace. Their tempo-free D is strong. The bigger issue is that they can't burn teams that swarm AI and Melo. Denver planned to complement its stars with Chucky Atkins and Nenê, whose 58 and 61.1 true shooting percentages [a formula that weights threes, twos and FTs] last season were among the best at their positions. But they've missed most of this year with injuries, leaving guys like Camby (49.2), Anthony Carter (51.6) and Kenyon Martin (53.2) as the open men.

"Every other West contender has at least one player with a TS% above 60; Denver's best is J.R. Smith (59.1), who backs up Iverson. As a result, the Nuggets rank 20th in 3FG%, 11th in FG%, 11th in TS% … and ninth in the West."

YOUNG LOVE
By Chris Broussard

The Sixers were curious. They had an athletic, lefty teen with a high hoops IQ and silky moves. But how much can you tell about a guy in practice? So they threw him into games as a 6'8" power forward. He was out of position, but at least he was on the floor.

Then a funny thing happened: Thaddeus Young helped turn Philly's season around. The NBA's second youngest player isn't the star (Andre Iguodala) or the catalyst (Andre Miller), but the rookie from Georgia Tech is critical to the Sixers' surge. During a recent 10–3 spurt in which Philly jumped to seventh in the East, Young posted 10.6 ppg and 6.3 rpg and shot 61%. Just 15 months after trading Allen Iverson, the 76ers are better than when he left. "Young has been one of our most pleasant surprises," says GM Ed Stefanski.

Young, who went 12th in June's draft, is part of a unit that one East scout calls "the fastest in the league." He's not Shawn Marion, but his ability to board as an undersized PF allows the team to go small—Samuel Dalembert is often the only Sixer on the court taller than 6'8". So Philly presses, sprints and finishes breaks with dunks by Young or Iguodala. During the Sixers' surge, their scoring increased from 94 ppg to 102 while opponents' ppg dipped from 96 to 94.

"When they traded Kyle Korver, people thought they were done," the scout says. "But that's when Young started playing." Given that he's still three months shy of his 20th birthday, Young is far from a finished product. He's destined to be a 3, not a 4, so he needs to increase his range and tighten his handle. But he has all the tools. "He's got a very high upside," says Stefanski.

So does his team.