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The most surprising teams in the NBA this season revealed — both good and bad

The L.A. Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets have been disappointing but the next most underachieving team might surprise you.
Rick Carlisle and the Indiana Pacers frustrated, while Evan Mobley and Jarret Allen from the Cleveland Cavaliers are happy

Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers

"Most surprising" can mean many things - both good and bad. In the NBA, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Indiana Pacers are at the top and bottom of the most surprising teams list for different reasons.

Overachieving squad

The Cleveland Cavaliers came out as the most surprising team in the NBA this season. They exceeded the modest expectations set for them in the summer and proved they were ready and committed to winning.

The Cavs received 27.5 projected wins from Vegas Projections, while their current pace is 47.39. The difference of 19.89 bested 2nd placer Phoenix Suns with a difference of 13.85 and Memphis Grizzlies’ 13.19.

The caveat on the top three teams would have to be the Suns, who were last year’s finalists. Meanwhile, the Cavs were not supposed to be this good, especially with personnel changes and injuries to key players -- Collin Sexton’s return from injury remains uncertain, while Ricky Rubio got traded mid-season. 

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Cleveland is supposed to be learning how to play together and not become contenders this season. Instead, they are sitting in 6th place with a 37-27 record. If they can keep this up, other teams need to worry about them next year, when they get all the players healthy.

Underachieving squad

Meanwhile, we have the usual suspects Brooklyn Nets and the L.A. Lakers, at the bottom on the other end of surprising teams that are borderline disappointing. Next up is Indiana Pacers, to the surprise of many.

Examining the roster changes gives us a glimpse of worse than expected performance projection for the Indiana Pacers. The 2021-22 season was projected to be the year that the core consisting of Caris LeVert, Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, TJ Warren, and Myles Turner would learn how to play and win together. 

They also hired a veteran coach with championship experience in Rick Carlisle, who transformed the Dallas Mavericks into one of the best offensive teams in NBA history. Instead, they retooled mid-season, signed Buddy Hield and Tyrese Haliburton, and let go of Sabonis, who was having another All-Star level year. It was a strange move by the front office, which only added to an already disappointing season for the Pacers.

Meanwhile, the Nets and Lakers have been awful and disappointing, to say the least. These two teams were projected to meet in the finals instead of scrambling to make the playoffs. As a result, fans will never have the luxury of seeing Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving versus LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook in the Finals.

The Pacers, Lakers, and Nets still have a chance to turn things around, but time is not on their side. So it will be an interesting race to the playoffs to see which teams could pull off some surprises. 

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