Five players to watch in the 2011-12 NBA season

Wed Dec 21, 2011 12:38pm EST

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(Reuters) - Five players to watch for during the 2011-12 National Basketball Association (NBA) season that begins on December 25.

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LEBRON JAMES (MIAMI HEAT)

James is the most dominant and scrutinized player in the NBA. A two-time most valuable player (MVP) and seven-time All-Star, he has achieved virtually every individual honor the game has to offer. He won an Olympic gold medal with the U.S. team at Beijing but the one big thing still missing from his resume is an NBA championship. He made the finals with Cleveland in 2007 and with Miami last season but nothing less than winning the title this year will satisfy King James.

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DIRK NOWITZKI (DALLAS MAVERICKS)

Nowitzki has been a revelation in the NBA since leaving his homeland in Germany to ply his trade in the U.S. Initially drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks, he has spent his entire career with the Dallas Mavericks, leading them to the playoffs in each of the past 11 seasons. In 2007, the power forward was named the NBA's MVP, becoming the first European to win the award, and last season, he was named MVP in the NBA Finals after leading the Mavericks to their first championship.

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DERRICK ROSE (CHICAGO BULLS)

Rose upstaged LeBron James last season to win the NBA's MVP award, becoming the youngest player to win the coveted prize after averaging 25 points per game. Two years earlier, the points guard was named Rookie of the Year after being selected by the Bulls as the first pick overall in the draft. He led the Bulls to the Eastern Conference finals but, despite averaging 27.1 points per game during the playoffs, they lost out to the Heat.

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KOBE BRYANT (LOS ANGELES LAKERS)

One of the most accomplished players the NBA has produced, Bryant has achieved it all. He has won five championships with the Lakers and an Olympic gold medal for the U.S. as well as a string of individual awards, including the MVP in 2008 and the NBA Finals MVP in 2009 and 2010. At 33, he is showing no signs of slowing down but there are questions about the Lakers after their limp exit from last year's playoffs.

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BLAKE GRIFFIN (LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS)

Griffin was selected as the first pick in the 2009 NBA Draft but missed the entire 2009-10 season because of injury. He made up for lost time last season, averaging 22.5 points and 12.1 rebounds a game, to unanimously win the Rookie of the Year award and establish himself as one of the most exciting prospects in the sport.

(Compiled by Julian Linden; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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