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When LeBron James returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers last summer and the Cavs traded for Minnesota’s Kevin Love to join up and coming superstar Kyrie Irving it was widely thought that it was just a matter of time until the Cavs would be contending for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

That time might finally be at hand.

After struggling for most of the season’s first three months that reached a low point with 6-straight losses and 9 losses in 10 games Cleveland stood 19-20 as they took the court at the LA Lakers on Jan. 15. 

The Cavs won that game and have won 9 more since. They start the week on a 10 game winning streak and at 29-20 the Cavs sit fifth in the East and are just 2.5 games behind third-seeded Washington. Love has started to be more of a factor and the Cavs started to gel, although it has taken longer than many expected.

The Cavs have much ground to make up if they are to achieve one of the top two seeds in the East. They trail second seeded Toronto by 4.5 games and top seeded Atlanta by 11.5. With 33 games remaining Cleveland has a realistic shot at catching the Raptors but catching Atlanta will be much tougher.

Just how much has Cleveland under achieved this season? Consider the following.

About the only thing constant in sports in the modern era is change. With free agency and salary caps teams’ identities can change markedly from one season to the next in all professional sports. 

The NBA is no exception. In a sport that involves just 5 players participating at a time change can often be swift and dramatic.

In both directions.

Perhaps the best indicator of expected performance is the expected season win totals posted at most of the sports books in Nevada prior to the start of each season.

Let’s look at a list of the NBA teams that are on pace to either exceed or fall short of their season win totals by the greatest amounts as the second half of the season begins to unfold.

There are four teams that are on pace to exceed their projected win totals by more than 10 games led, not surprisingly, by Atlanta. Starting this week at 40-8 the Hawks are on pace to win 68.3 games. Later this week the Hawks should exceed their projected wins total of 41.5. That would have Atlanta exceed its season wins total by more than 26 games!

Western leading Golden State, 37-8 through Sunday, is on pace to win 67.4 games which is 16.4 games greater than the Warriors’ projected wins total of 51. That pace has the Warriors third behind Milwaukee. 

The long dormant Bucks, starting the week at 25-22, are on pace to win 43.6 games, a solid 19.6 games more than their projected total of 24 games.

Interestingly two of the three teams have first season head coaches as Steve Kerr is in his first head coaching job with Golden State and Jason Kidd is in his first season coaching Milwaukee, just one season after his coaching career began when he led the Brooklyn Nets.

Atlanta coach, Mike Buldenhozer, is in his second season on the Hawks’ bench after spending 16 seasons as an assistant to San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich. He’s clearly demonstrated that he learned very well from the master.

The fourth team on pace to exceed its season wins total by double digits is Memphis. At 35-12 the Grizzlies are on pace to win 61.1 games, more than a dozen more than the projection of 48.5.

Collectively this group of 4 is 119-64-4 ATS (65.0 percent).

At the other end of the projections spectrum are 4 teams on pace to fall short of their projections by at least 10 games and another 4 teams that are just short of double digits, on pace to fall short by between 9 and 10 games.

Leading the list as the team most likely to under achieve by the greatest margin is New York. Projected to win 41 games the Knicks, 10-38 to start the week, are on pace to win just 17.1 games, a shortfall of 23.9 games.

Oklahoma City, on pace to fall short by 17.9 games, Minnesota (13.5) and Cleveland (10.0) round out this ignominious quartet that is a combined 81-109-1 ATS (42.6 percent).

The other four teams on pace to fall short by just under 10 wins are the L.A. Lakers, Charlotte, Brooklyn and Denver (85-100-4 ATS, 46.0 percent).

Depending on your point of view there are two ways you might consider to use this information going forward.

If you believe in the “regression to the mean” line of thinking you would look to play against the four teams on pace to exceed their win totals by double digits while looking for spots to play on the 4 (or 8) teams on pace to fall short of their projected totals.

If you believe in Isaac Newton’s first law of motion you would look to continue to back the first group of four while continuing to fade the latter group.

Most likely there will be a combination of the two opposing forces at work.

Here’s a look at three games to be played this weekend.

LA Clippers at Toronto (Fri.): In their prior meeting this season Toronto, as 4.5 point underdogs, won 110-98 at the Clippers just after Christmas. Toronto is rested and does not play again until Sunday while the Clippers are off of a Thursday night game in Cleveland. TORONTO

Portland at Dallas (Sat.): The absence of Rajon Rondo should be key in this game and Portland will arguably have the two best players on the court in Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge. PORTLAND.

Atlanta at Memphis (Sun.): Atlanta started this week on a 19 game winning streak in which they started 14-0-1 ATS but have gone just 1-3 ATS in their most recent 4 games Memphis will be prepared and motivated to gain a measure of revenge. MEMPHIS.

Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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