Five on five: NBA Eastern Conference preview

Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic argues Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic argues a call during a preseason game against the Miami Heat at Amway Center. (Dec. 21, 2011) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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A look at the players to watch in the Eastern Conference leading up to the 2011-12 NBA season.

THE BEST PLAYERS

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1. Dwight Howard, Magic
Room to grow, miles ahead of other centers.

2. LeBron James, Heat
Most talented all-around . . . until crunch time.

3. Derrick Rose, Bulls
MVP is impossible to stop off dribble.

4. Dwyane Wade, Heat
Heat's top scorer . . . will chemistry improve?

5. Carmelo Anthony, Knicks
Great passer, can create with ball, but inconsistent on defense.

MOST UNDERRATED

1. Andre Iguodala, 76ers
Not an elite scorer, but can defend, facilitate and rebound.

2. Joakim Noah, Bulls
Maybe the league's only center that can defend Dwight Howard.

3. Al Horford, Hawks
Perfect center for Atlanta offense. Can score, rebound, pass.

4. David West, Pacers
Efficient scorer and rebounder could have career year in Indiana.

5. Tayshaun Prince, Pistons
Hassle for opponents on defense, incredibly consistent on offense.

READY FOR A BREAKOUT

1. Greg Monroe, Pistons
Just 21, already very smart on offense.

2. DeMar DeRozan, Raptors
His strength is around the basket.

3. Lou Williams, 76ers
Ready to become go-to guy.

4. Toney Douglas, Knicks
One of league's better scorers off bench.

5. Jonas Jerebko, Pistons
Showed flashes in 2009-10.

NEWCOMERS TO WATCH

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1. Kemba Walker, Bobcats
Clutch run at UConn boosted stock.

2. JaJuan Johnson, Celtics
Consistent scorer, consistent defender.

3. Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers
Life won't be easy with limited supporting cast, high expectations.

4. Iman Shumpert, Knicks
Tough-as-nails defender, will surprise people on offense.

5. Marshon Brooks, Nets
Showed offense at Providence. Could score 30-plus several times.

BIGGEST ACQUISITIONS

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1. Tyson Chandler, Knicks
Mike D'Antoni gets his missing piece: big, savvy defender in middle.

2. Richard Hamilton, Bulls
If healthy, happy, could be X-factor as Chicago chases title.

3. Baron Davis, Knicks
Much-needed veteran presence at point guard. Back needs to heal.

4. George Hill, Pacers
Should find niche in Indiana. Sixth Man of Year candidate.

5. Glen Davis, Magic
Mid-range game should fit nicely next to Dwight Howard.

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From left, New York Knicks forward Amare Stoudemire, 2011-12 NBA preview