That discussion will only get louder after this weekend, where the Lakers lost to the lowly Phoenix Suns to push their playoff hopes from unlikely to nearly impossible, and where the Celtics lost to the Houston Rockets to give them five losses in the past six games. They are two of the NBA's most disappointing teams when you compare their record now to their preseason projections.
But neither is the single-most disappointing team this season.
I went through CBS Sports' preseason win projections (courtesy of SportsLine Data Scientist Stephen Oh) for every NBA team and compared them to where each team stands right now. I extrapolated each team's winning percentage over 82 games to come up with a new projected win total.
A note: The projected win totals for the remainder of the regular season are somewhat context-free. I'm not bringing each team's remaining strength of schedule into it. If I did, the Oklahoma City Thunder, who have the most difficult , would have a projected win total that's a bit lower. Also, the Utah Jazz, who have the easiest remaining strength of schedule, would have a projected win total that's a bit higher. Nor did I take into account injuries or tanking. This is simply looking at a team's current winning percentage and extrapolating it over 82 games.
So who is the most disappointing team in the NBA? It's the New Orleans Pelicans, whose current record would project to 36.6 wins, which is 11.5 wins fewer than their preseason projection of 48.1. The Cleveland Cavaliers are not to be outdone, with their team also projecting to 11.5 wins fewer than their preseason projection. The Lakers and Celtics are close, each on pace for 9.8 wins fewer than their preseason projection.
The most surprisingly good team in the NBA? That honor goes to the Milwaukee Bucks. In the preseason, they were projected for 43.5 wins, and are currently on pace for 62.5 wins, a massive 19-win improvement. The next three teams in line: The Los Angeles Clippers (+16.0), the Sacramento Kings (+14.5), and the Portland Trail Blazers (+9.5 wins).
Here are this week's NBA Power Rankings:
|Preseason projected win total: 43.5. Currently on pace for: 62.5. Difference: +19 wins. Absolutely unbelievable. Every move that general manager Jon Horst has made, from installing Mike Budenholzer as head coach to signing Brook Lopez to trading for Nikola Mirotic, has had the golden touch.||--||3-1|
|Preseason projected win total: 62.1. Currently on pace for: 57.3. Difference: -4.8 wins. Yeah, sort of disappointing, I guess. But only the playoffs matters. We'll see if any of the regular-season concerns spill into the playoffs. My guess? Nah.||--||3-0|
|Preseason projected win total: 58.0. Currently on pace for: 58.9. Difference: +0.9 wins. Still my pick to make the NBA Finals from the East. This team feels built for the postseason.||--||1-3|
|Preseason projected win total: 47.2. Currently on pace for: 55.5. Difference: +8.3 wins. We certainly saw the Nuggets coming -- but we didn't see them coming this hard. One of the youngest and deepest teams in the NBA. If Michael Porter Jr. turns out to be as he was once advertised, the Nuggets will be in contention at the top of the West for a long, long time.||--||2-1|
|Preseason projected win total: 41.3. Currently on pace for: 50.8. Difference: +9.5 wins. Savvy trade-deadline moves where the Blazers improved around the margins without giving up much. The Blazers have one game left (in Memphis) on a seven-game post-All-Star break road trip. So far, they're 5-1, having beaten the Sixers and Celtics. This team could continue to push its way up the standings, especially since they'll spent much of March at the Moda Center.||3||1-2|
|Preseason projected win total: 54.3. Currently on pace for: 52.1. Difference: -2.2 wins. The 76ers had two massive midseason additions -- Jimmy Butler, then Tobias Harris. We won't see the real version of the Sixers until the playoffs. Here's hoping, for their sake, that it's not in a 4-5 playoff series with the Boston Celtics.||1||2-1|
|Preseason projected win total: 57.0. Currently on pace for: 49.5. Difference: -7.5 wins. The Rockets seem to be rounding into form at the right time. They're 5-1 since Clint Capela returned and winners of nine of their last 12. The regular season doesn't matter for this team; can they once again challenge the Warriors when it matters most?||2||1-2|
|Preseason projected win total: 47.1. Currently on pace for: 50.8. Difference: +3.6 wins. Nobody saw this version of Paul George coming. Nobody. I'd love to see him make a late-season MVP push. It'll take a lot to overcome James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo. But if Denver and Golden State can continue to tumble, and OKC can surge and close the gap in the West, you'll hear some rumblings.||2||0-3|
|Preseason projected win total: 48.7. Currently on pace for: 47.6. Difference: -1.1 wins. One trade-deadline acquisition (Mike Conley) away from being a team that could challenge as the second-best team in the West. These guys are just solid and tough all the way through; big win on Saturday against the Bucks has the Jazz at four in a row.||1||2-0|
|Preseason projected win total: 58.5. Currently on pace for: 48.7. Difference: -9.8 wins. Still fourth in the NBA in net rating, still likely the most deep and talented team in the East. The Celtics haven't put it together for an extended stretch all season. If this team doesn't make the Eastern Conference finals, it'll be a big disappointment.||3||2-2|
|Preseason projected win total: 49.6. Currently on pace for: 52.5. Difference: +2.9 wins. Incredible coaching job by Nate McMillan all season long. I keep waiting for the Pacers to fall off after the season-ending injury to their best player. They haven't yet.||--||1-3|
|Preseason projected win total: 42.7. Currently on pace for: 44.8. Difference: +2.1. They've done it in a completely un-Popovich-ian way, with a defense that's ranked 23rd in the NBA -- the worst for the Spurs in more than two decades. But here they are at the end of the season, right in the mix. Death, taxes, Popovich. Would have loved to see this team with a healthy Dejounte Murray.||1||1-2|
|Preseason projected win total: 29.4. Currently on pace for: 45.4. Difference: +16 wins. While I doubt the Steve Ballmer wisdom of wanting to still make the playoffs after trading away their best player in Tobias Harris -- the Clippers will lose their 2019 first-round pick if they aren't in the lottery -- it feels like a moot point. They're almost certainly going to make the playoffs. This is an incredibly well-run organization. If they get Kawhi Leonard in free agency, they'll be on the fast track.||3||1-2|
|Preseason projected win total: 26.5. Currently on pace for: 41.0. Difference: +14.5 wins. The Kings were projected to have the second-worst record in the NBA. The remarkable development of De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Marvin Bagley, Harry Giles and Bogdan Bogdanovic gives the Kings an enviable young core.||2||1-2|
|Preseason projected win total: 39.8. Currently on pace for: 42. Difference: 2.2 wins. The Pistons are one of the hottest teams in the NBA, winners of nine of 11 games and now in sole possession of sixth place in the East. This may be the NBA's streakiest team since Day One of the season. They won their first four games of the year, then lost their next five. They had a five-game winning streak after Thanksgiving followed by a six-game losing streak. Yes, they beat a Kawhi-less Raptors team on Sunday, a very big win. But pardon me if I don't believe in the Pistons as a team that's going to hold onto that momentum.||6||0-3|
|Preseason projected win total: 32.2. Currently on pace for: 40.4. Difference: +8.2 wins. A well-run organization that made it through the post-Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett trade doldrums, built things patiently (the only way it could) and is looking at a solid future. They may make the playoffs; they may not. Either way, this season is an unqualified success for the Nets.||2||2-2|
|Preseason projected win total: 48.8. Currently on pace for: 39.0. Difference: -9.8 wins. Amazing to think now, but CBS Sports' projections put the Lakers at third in what was expected to be an incredibly tight West. The West is relatively tight, to be sure -- only 4.5 games separates the third-place team from the eighth-place team -- but the Lakers are nowhere to be found, sitting in 10th place and close to out of the playoff race altogether. We all know how much LeBron James' injury hurt this team. But another hidden reason for the Lakers' struggles: Since Lonzo Ball's injury on Jan. 19, the Lakers have ranked 28th in the NBA in defensive efficiency. Before then, they were sitting at seventh.||2||1-2|
|Preseason projected win total: 27.6. Currently on pace for: 37.8. Difference: +10.2 wins. Just Steve Clifford, doing what he does with young and developing teams. In the past 10 days, the Magic have beaten the Raptors, Warriors and Pacers but lost to the Bulls, Knicks and Cavaliers. Huh?||1||1-3|
|Preseason projected win total: 42.2. Currently on pace for: 37.7. Difference: -4.5 wins. It's hard to point the finger at any one person for the Timberwolves' underachievement. From the Jimmy Butler drama to the Tom Thibodeau mismanagement to the injuries, injuries, injuries, this season was destined from the jump to be something along these lines. With Robert Covington close to returning, new head coach Ryan Saunders will soon have a nearly full roster for the first time.||1||2-1|
|Preseason projected win total: 31.3. Currently on pace for: 37.7. Difference: +6.4 wins. Kemba Walker has been an absolute force all year, though his numbers have cooled off since his MVP-caliber start. If only he had more help around him.||1||3-1|
|Preseason projected win total: 48.1. Currently on pace for: 36.6. Difference: -11.5 wins. Injuries helped lead to the Anthony Davis drama, and the Anthony Davis drama will likely lead to the Pelicans being an organization in flux for a long while. What a disaster.||1||1-3|
|Preseason projected win total: 42.7. Currently on pace for: 37.0. Difference: -5.7 wins. There's usually a floor to Erik Spoelstra teams. They're perennial overachievers. Not this season. Thanks to a weak East, however, they're still in the thick of a playoff race.||2||2-1|
|Preseason projected win total: 38.1. Currently on pace for: 35.7. Difference: -2.4 wins. Why does it feel like the Mavericks season was actually a net positive despite underperforming by 2.4 wins? Because Luka Doncic looks like a potential future MVP candidate, and because the front office swung for the fences with the massive Kristaps Porzingis trade. Oh yeah: They got some cap room this offseason, too.||--||1-1|
|Preseason projected win total: 40.3. Currently on pace for: 33.8. Difference: -6.5 wins. Well, at least they have a superstar signed on a team-friendly contract for the foreseeable future, right? Right?!?||--||2-1|
|Preseason projected win total: 23.1. Currently on pace for: 28.2. Difference: +5.1 wins. This franchise is building the right way. If they hit on both of their 2019 lottery picks -- assuming the Mavericks' pick lands in the Hawks' hands -- this team has one of the most exciting young cores in the league.||--||2-1|
|Preseason projected win total: 34.1. Currently on pace for: 31.5. Difference: -2.6 wins. I still wish this team blew things up a year ago and went into the rebuild sooner. It's hard to envision a future where the Grizzlies can get back to the playoffs in the next few years.||--||2-1|
|Preseason projected win total: 28.8. Currently on pace for: 23.1. Difference: -5.7 wins. Funny to think there was a bit of preseason "Can the Bulls make the playoffs?" buzz. I guess that just shows how ugly things are after the top five teams in the East.||--||4-0|
|Preseason projected win total: 32.0. Currently on pace for: 20.5. Difference: -11.5 wins. Really, really funny to think there was a bit of preseason "Can the Cavs make the playoffs?" buzz. I guess that just shows how ugly things are after the top five teams in the East. Hey -- they're 4-1 since Kevin Love returned!||--||2-2|
|Preseason projected win total: 27.3. Currently on pace for: 16.7. Difference: -10.6 wins. Maybe Zion can help? The Suns have, on paper, a potentially bright future with Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. But this team feels years away from contending.||1||1-2|
|Preseason projected win total: 28.1. Currently on pace for: 16.9. Difference: -11.2 wins. While this team has been mostly awful, there are plenty of positive signs -- Mitchell Robinson being the prime one, but also Kevin Knox and Dennis Smith Jr. -- and plenty of hope for the future. If the Knicks swing and miss this offseason, it'll be a disaster at MSG. Right now, though, Knicks fans should be optimistic despite this wreck of a season.||1||2-1|