Los Angeles Clippers and 8 NBA Teams to Look out for in 2012

James ToljCorrespondent IIDecember 28, 2011

Los Angeles Clippers and 8 NBA Teams to Look out for in 2012

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    With their newly-acquired talent, the Los Angeles Clippers are destined to make their first playoff appearance since the 2006-2007 season and take the NBA by storm.

    What other teams are going to make some serious noise? This isn't your run-of-the-mill list of perennial powers or top seeds from last year's playoffs, but these teams are all up-and-comers.

    A number of teams are going to take a step forward this season, and these eight squads are all going to improve by leaps and bounds, and one even has a legitimate shot at the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

Sacramento Kings

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    The Sacramento Kings have a ton of potential on offense. 

    Tyreke Evans, Jimmer Fredette, Marcus Thornton and DeMarcus Cousins are just a short list of players who can put up 20 points on any given night.

    The Kings will be successful if they can create a hierarchy of scorers early in the season. And after the first two games, it looks like Thornton, Evans and Cousins will be the go-to guys on offense.

    Fredette will likely see his looks increase as the season progresses as well.

    After a victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, a blowout loss to the Portland Trailblazers might have fans worried.

    But if the somewhat recently-acquired J.J.Hickson can find his groove, and Cousins can mature into the player many expect him to be, then the Kings could actually have a shot at playing after the regular season ends.

Golden State Warriors

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    The Golden State Warriors new head coach, Marc Jackson, has his team playing well through their first two games. 

    While the Warriors fell apart defensively in the second half against the Los Angeles Clippers on Christmas (but Golden State kept it close until the fourth quarter), they came back the next night with an impressive victory over the Chicago Bulls.

    With Monta Ellis, Stephen Curry and David Lee, scoring won't be a problem.

    If coach Jackson can instill some toughness on defense and overcome a lack of height at the guard positions, then the Warriors will be a pleasant surprise to everyone in the Bay Area.

New Orleans Hornets

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    Chris Paul's departure could have been worse. At least the New Orleans Hornets traded him before he became a free agent (just ask the Cleveland Cavaliers).

    And New Orleans got a future first-round draft selection and some good players in return.

    Only one of those players cracked the starting roster in the Hornets' opening game against the Phoenix Suns though—Eric Gordon.

    In a 87-86 victory over the Suns, Gordon led the team in scoring with 20 points.

    The Hornets' roster is actually pretty deep now, too.

    They added an athletic, young forward to back up Trevor Ariza in Al-Farouq Aminu.

    Chris Kaman can come in and provide size on defense and scoring potential behind Emeka Okafor at center (or Okafor can slide over and take Carl Landry's spot so that both Okafor and Kaman are on the floor), and Marco Belleni will likely move to a backup role when Jarrett Jack returns to the lineup.

    Add in the other players already on the roster like second-year guard Greivis Vasquez, and the New Orleans Hornets will be just fine after losing their franchise player.

Indiana Pacers

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    The Indiana Pacers' roster meshes extremely well.

    The addition of David West takes some scoring pressure off of Danny Granger, and having Tyler Hansbrough coming in off the bench provides the team with a spark of enthusiasm.

    George Hill adds some versatility at guard, and look out for Paul George to have a breakout year.

    Roy Hibbert is solid on both sides of the ball, and the Pacers are going to be a very good defensive team.

    The team's success could hinge on how well Darren Collinson does in his third year at point guard (second with the Pacers), but fans should expect Indiana to go to the playoffs for a second straight year.

    The team's easy victory over the Detroit Pistons could be a sign of good things to come.

Denver Nuggets

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    The Denver Nuggets held things together last year after a blockbuster trade sent star forward Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks.

    The team played extremely well with its new players until a first-round playoff loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

    This season, the team retained power forward Nenê, who starts alongside former Knick Timofey Mozgov at center.

    Ty Lawson, who had a great season last year, is going to be backed up by Andre Miller in his return to the Nuggets' roster.

    Al Harrington and Rudy Fernandaz are two additions that add depth at guard and forward. Both players can put up points in bunches off the bench.

    Danilo Gallinari and Arron Afflalo are expected to produce this year in the starting lineup, and after the Nuggets' dominating performance over the Dallas Mavericks in the season opener, it looks like George Karl might have himself another winning team.

Portland Trailblazers

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    I know this team isn't going to come out of nowhere, but the news of Brandon Roy's impending retirement must have hit Oregon like a wildfire.

    The once bright future of the former University of Washington guard ended so abruptly, but the Portland Trailblazers have found a way to overcome injuries before, and it looks like they might do so again this season.

    The Trailblazers have started the 2011-2012 season off strong with consecutive wins over the Philadelphia 76ers and the Sacramento Kings.

    Gerald Wallace and LaMarcus Aldridge scored over 20 points in both games, while Marcus Camby continues to be a defensive anchor and rebounding machine.

    Nolan Smith, Portland's first pick in the 2011 NBA draft, will slowly be worked into the game plan as the season continues. 

    Wesley Matthews and Raymond Felton are set to have big seasons, and Jamaal Crawford could be the boost in offensive firepower that the Trailblazers need to go deep into the playoffs.

New York Knicks

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    After a 2010-2011 season where the New York Knicks squeaked into the playoffs, the team could very well be battling it out for one of the top spots in the Eastern Conference.

    Carmelo Anthony started his season by dropping 37 points on the Boston Celtics in a 104-106 victory. Amar'e Stoudemire had 21 points.

    The Knicks let Chauncey Billups go, and Tony Douglas is expected to fill some big shoes with Billups' departure.

    Landry Fields, who had a solid rookie season, is once again starting at guard.

    Two recent acquisitions have garnered quite a bit of attention.

    Tyson Chandler started his first game for the Knicks on Christmas, and he is expected to bring some toughness to the team on defense.

    And the Knicks also signed the injured Baron Davis, who is expected to miss nearly half the season with a bulging disc.

    If Davis can return healthy, he could be an important piece of the Knicks' roster and spark a playoff run.

Los Angeles Clippers

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    No team has received more attention recently than the Los Angeles Clippers.

    Chris Paul came in and gave the Clippers an immediate shot at taking the Western Conference.

    Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler lend needed experience to a young team, and both players have started along with DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin and Paul.

    Billups and Paul will be having fun this season by simply lobbing the ball to a couple of the NBA's best dunkers in Griffin and Jordan.

    The whole starting roster can score at will. If Vinnie Del Negro can figure out when to substitute Mo Williams, Randy Foye, Ryan Gomez, Brian Cook (I know), Eric Bledsoe and the Clipper rookies in, then the starting five will remain well-rested all year long

    Before the big trade, fans were thinking that the Clippers could finally get into the playoffs for the first time since the 2006-2007 season. Now, with Paul and the others, Clippers fans are thinking they have a legitimate shot at the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

    Jordan is already a defensive stud, but if Griffin can pick up his play on that side of the ball, then it would be hard for me to disagree with the high expectations for the Clippers this season.