Projecting Win-Loss Totals for Every NBA Team in the Beginning of 2015

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 10, 2015

Projecting Win-Loss Totals for Every NBA Team in the Beginning of 2015

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    The NBA playoff picture is still a jumbled-up mess, even though we're now into the 2015 portion of the 2014-15 campaign. 

    With the Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls catching fire, the competition for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference has become as heated as the chase for the final playoff spot in the West. It still appears as though there are seven postseason locks in the Association's stronger half, but three teams remain in strong contention for the last bid. 

    The same is true of the last berth in the East.

    With the Miami Heat struggling and the Brooklyn Nets experiencing some injury woes, the spot is ripe for the taking. And both the Charlotte Hornets and Detroit Pistons are heating up and will look to do some of that taking. 

    It's very much worth noting that these record projections will lean heavily on my FATS (factor-adjusted team similarities) system, which you can see explained in full here. Basically, FATS takes the statistical profile of a team this season and compares it to every squad since 1974, finding the top matches and using the final records of those teams to come up with the most accurate projection possible. 

    But FATS doesn't have the final say, simply because context has to matter. Key players are returning or falling out of the lineup, and the identity of teams changes constantly. 

    As a result, you'll see each team's current record, current pace, FATS projection and top historical FATS similarity presented, then you'll have a chance to read about that all-important context. But even while weighing situations and lineup changes, we will attempt to stay as objective as possible here.

    All teams are ranked on the position at which they are expected to finish in their conference, starting with the East.

15. New York Knicks: 10-72

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    Current Record: 5-34

    Current Pace: 11-71

    FATS Projection: 15-67

    FATS Similarity2012-13 Phoenix Suns (97.94 percent match)

    While the New York Knicks' FATS projection is more optimistic than the team's current pace, it's also rather misleading. Not only are there few teams in NBA history that have played this poorly, making comparisons rather difficult, but this team has already unloaded three rotation members—J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Samuel Dalembert to waivers—and has no idea what to expect from Carmelo Anthony, due to his unending knee injury. 

    Frankly, 10 wins may still be giving the futile Knicks too much credit. 

    Without those rotation players, Tim Hardaway Jr. may well be the most effective member of the roster. Derek Fisher is being forced to give significant run to guys like Travis Wear and Langston Galloway, who may have potential but don't yet belong in that type of role on an NBA team. 

    As Fisher told's Ian Begley, the goals have now shifted for this team:

    I think we have to be honest with our guys about what just happened and what it symbolizes and what it means for us. …This doesn't mean we're giving up on them and who we are and what we're trying to become. But it almost solidifies the fact that we're trying to build something that's going to last and not just squeeze out a win here or there.

    Try as they might, squeezing out wins just got a lot harder. It was already difficult enough.

14. Philadelphia 76ers: 12-70

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    Current Record: 6-29

    Current Pace: 14-68

    FATS Projection: 15-67

    FATS Similarity: 1999-00 Chicago Bulls (97.09 percent match)

    The Philadelphia 76ers have managed to pull off a few surprising wins, even taking advantage of a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers in which both LeBron James and Kyrie Irving were missing from the lineup. But they're still not a particularly strong team. And like the Knicks, they're benefitting from the FATS projections not finding too many strong matches because there haven't been many teams this bad in the last four decades. 

    Defense isn't the issue for Philadelphia. In fact, the Sixers are currently ranked No. 17 in defensive rating, allowing 106.5 points per 100 possessions and making some significant strides on the less glamorous end of the floor. 

    But the offense is unimaginably bad. 

    Philadelphia scores 92.8 points per 100 possessions, and that mark easily leaves the Sixers in dead last for offensive rating. In fact, the gap between them and the No. 29 Orlando Magic (8.1) is as large as the difference between the Magic and the No. 6 Cleveland Cavaliers.

    That's ginormous. 

    Why is it so hard to find a strong projection here? Because Philadelphia's current adjusted offensive efficiency of 87.55 is set to supplant the 2002-03 Denver Nuggets' mark of 89 flat, indicating that this team easily—yes, with emphasis again—boasts the worst offense in NBA history. 

13. Boston Celtics: 29-53

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    Current Record: 12-22

    Current Pace: 29-53

    FATS Projection: 37-45

    FATS Similarity: 1978-79 Golden State Warriors (98.84 percent match)

    Interestingly enough, the Boston Celtics are still playing like a 38-win team since they traded Rajon Rondo to the Dallas Mavericks for Brandan Wright, some draft picks and a few spare parts.

    They've declined since Rondo left Beantown, but not by all that much. 

    So can the Celtics maintain that pace? Perhaps the better question revolves around whether or not they'd like to. 

    Head coach Brad Stevens doesn't have much incentive to give his veterans significant playing time. It's in his best interest to throw the young contributors to the wolves and see what he has under his supervision. If that means losing a few more games, then so be it, as there have never been championship aspirations for this season. 

    That was made quite clear in a matter of minutes on Friday afternoon. First, the Celtics traded Brandan Wright for a future draft pick, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports. They're also set to send Jeff Green to the Memphis Grizzlies, according to's Marc Stein. Though that move is assumed to be a done deal, it's not technically official quite yet.

    Without those two contributors, it's clear where the priorities are.

    It's also worth nothing that the Celtics have played a schedule that's more difficult than only that faced by the Portland Trail Blazers, Washington Wizards and Brooklyn Nets, so that's bound to get tougher as well. 

12. Orlando Magic: 30-52

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    Current Record: 13-25

    Current Pace: 28-54

    FATS Projection: 29-53

    FATS Similarity: 2013-14 Orlando Magic (97.82 percent match)

    The Orlando Magic should improve slightly over the course of the 2014-15 season, which is the main reason they're exceeding their current pace and FATS projection by two and one win(s), respectively. Even with rookie Aaron Gordon continuing to rehab, there's an abundance of youth on this roster, and players like Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton, Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic all have chances to learn on the job.

    So why aren't they improving by even more? A one-win increase on the FATS mark would indicate that not much further growth is expected from guys like Oladipo, even though he's been quite impressive in recent weeks and seems like he's tracking toward future stardom.

    Well, the schedule has to come into play.

    According to Basketball-Reference, the Magic have played one of the easier schedules in the NBA, and that's going to change in the immediate future. Five of Orlando's next six games, for example, are against teams that would make the postseason if the season ended right now. 

    There should be reason for optimism currently, but that won't necessarily be reflected in the team's win-loss record.

11. Indiana Pacers: 32-50

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    Current Record: 15-23

    Current Pace: 32-50

    FATS Projection: 32-50

    FATS Similarity: 1977-78 Boston Celtics (98.45 percent)

    The Indiana Pacers pretty much are who we thought they were this year. 

    This team struggles on offense and continues to play effective defense, largely because of the gigantic man in the middle, Roy Hibbert. And while Frank Vogel has been able to nurse surprising performances out of a few relatively nondescript players, the Pacers are still reeling from the loss of their superstar (Paul George) and the offseason departure of Lance Stephenson, even if the latter has struggled with the Charlotte Hornets. 

    Of course, it doesn't help that starting point guard George Hill, currently out with a strained groin, has only suited up in five outings. With him on the floor, both sides of the ball should improve, but there's no telling how many games he'll be able to play in during the 2014-15 campaign. 

    Plus, the surprising performances from guys like Solomon Hill and Donald Sloan are bound to show a bit of regression as the grind of the NBA season takes its toll. 

    The Pacers have established an identity. They've set a pace for themselves. Don't expect that to change anytime soon.

10. Brooklyn Nets: 33-49

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    Current Record: 16-20

    Current Pace: 36-46

    FATS Projection: 37-45

    FATS Similarity: 2005-06 Minnesota Timberwolves (98.6 percent match)

    Just when there was reason for optimism…

    Behind some newfound chemistry and strong play from Mason Plumlee, who has taken over as the team's starting center, the Nets managed to win six times in a seven-game stretch. It was cause for both excitement and management thinking twice about dealing some of the team's star players. 

    But then Deron Williams went down. As reported by's Mike Mazzeo, the point guard broke his 12th rib and will be out indefinitely, which throws a rather significant wrench in the Nets' plans. As well as Jarrett Jack has been playing this season, this team isn't the same with the backup floor general leading the charge. 

    "The other thing to consider: After Friday's game against Philadelphia, the Nets are headed into a stretch where they play the Pistons—suddenly the hottest team in the NBA—on Saturday, followed by 13 of their following 16 games before they reach the All-Star break against teams currently in playoff position," explained Tim Bontemps for the New York Post

    Can you think of a worse time for Williams to miss action?

    I certainly can't.

9. Miami Heat: 34-48

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    Current Record: 15-21

    Current Pace: 34-48

    FATS Projection: 35-47

    FATS Similarity: 2003-04 Boston Celtics (98.26 percent match)

    The Miami Heat are absolutely fascinating. 

    On one hand, the numbers don't suggest that this team has overachieved or underachieved, as its current pace is only one game off from the FATS projections. On the other hand, the Heat have withstood a never-ending barrage of injuries that affects both the continuity and the ability to put out a strong lineup on any given night. But on a third hand, Dwyane Wade has been leaned on rather heavily, and there's no telling whether he'll be able to deal with the wear and tear throughout the year. 

    Wade has been fantastic when he's on the court. His defense is still rather lackluster, but his offensive game is supremely effective and allows the Heat to shoot quite efficiently from all spots of the half-court set. 

    Still, there have to be concerns that he's going to slow down. Because he is, and arguing otherwise is doing so against all logic. There's been no hint of a maintenance plan, Wade isn't sitting out during back-to-backs, and his minutes haven't declined. Plus, there's no help behind him at shooting guard, which forces Erik Spoelstra's hand. 

    And all the while, he's posted a usage rate of 35, which is the highest number he's mustered up since 2008-09.

    Wade is not the same player he was before LeBron James joined the Miami Heat in 2010.

    I'll leave you to connect the dots. 

8. Charlotte Hornets: 35-47

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    Current Record: 14-24

    Current Pace: 30-52

    FATS Projection: 31-51

    FATS Similarity: 2013-14 Charlotte Bobcats (96.7 percent match)

    Here come the Charlotte Hornets.

    Apparently, a slow start—one that led to all sorts of organizational panic and the floating of a certain Lance Stephenson—isn't enough to doom this team. Led by Kemba Walker, who's turning back the clocks and partying in crunch time like he's back at Connecticut, the former Bobcats have been on quite the tear lately. Playing without Al Jefferson, they've remained mediocre on offense and regained a definite defensive swagger that has them rocketing up the leaderboards on the less glamorous end. 

    Over their past 13 games, they've held opponents to a 46.4 effective field-goal percentage (well below the league-average mark of 49.8), rebounded quite well on the defensive end and refused to commit many fouls. It's been a remarkably successful combination, and it has FATS saying the Hornets will play like a 42-win team during that stretch. 

    If they maintain that level of performance, they'd finish the season with 37 wins. Even when forecasting a bit of a drop-off when the schedule gets more difficult (though Jefferson's return should help mitigate some of the decline because he's bound to aid the offense), that's good enough for Charlotte to sneak into the playoffs for the second season in a row. 

    This shouldn't really be that surprising. After all, this team was a postseason squad last year and had no real reason to experience such a large decline in just one offseason, especially when it added supposedly beneficial pieces. 

7. Detroit Pistons: 40-42

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    Current Record: 12-24

    Current Pace: 27-55

    FATS Projection: 33-49

    FATS Similarity: 2013-14 Cleveland Cavaliers (98.78 percent match)

    The Detroit Pistons have been a much different team since waiving Josh Smith and watching from afar as he took his poor-shooting ways to the Houston Rockets. Of course, that's not the only reason for the huge turnaround. 

    Jodie Meeks, for example, has been shooting the lights out, spacing the court out for the interior play of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe while taking pressure off perimeter players like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Singler. As Vince Ellis wrote for the Detroit Free Press before the Pistons took on the Dallas Mavericks, "The team is 8-4 since Jodie Meeks returned to the lineup after missing the first 22 games because of a back injury. That is what you call 'impact.' The team desperately needed his scoring."

    During the eight games since Smith left, seven of which Detroit has won, the Pistons have played like a 63-win team, and that puts them on pace to finish the season with a 48-34 record that would move them well up the Eastern Conference standings. Obviously, that's not sustainable, as it's the result of both a small sample and an easy slate of competition.

    Increasing the number of games we look at, Detroit has played like a 52-win squad since Meeks returned 14 games ago, comparing most favorably to—get this—the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls of 1992-93 that won 57 games and went on to win a title. The Pistons probably won't maintain that pace—or that comparison—throughout the rest of the season, but even playing like a 49-win team from this point forward would allow them to get to a 40-42 record and make the playoffs in the weak East.

6. Milwaukee Bucks: 43-39

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    Current Record: 20-18

    Current Pace: 43-39

    FATS Projection: 46-36

    FATS Similarity: 1982-83 New Jersey Nets (98 percent match)

    The Milwaukee Bucks don't seem like they're going anywhere. They've survived Jabari Parker's torn ACL thus far, and they've been quite good while Larry Sanders tries to figure out what's going on with his basketball career. 

    Players like Jared Dudley and O.J. Mayo are having resurgent seasons, while Brandon Knight is breaking out—admittedly in minor fashion—and Giannis Antetokounmpo just continues to get better. Though there's no star in Milwaukee, there are plenty of capable players on a team that has found its identity under coach Jason Kidd.

    The Bucks simply haven't cooled off after a hot start to the year. Even over their last 15 games, they've played like a 55-win team, which is actually a substantial improvement upon their opening to this surprising campaign. That stems from offensive play, as the team is finally connecting on far more of its shots. 

    Eventually though, youth should catch up to this team. It's tough to see the Bucks maintaining this type of pace, especially with teams in the East getting healthier, adding parts and heating up. Milwaukee still isn't quite a playoff lock, though it seems to be moving closer to that status whenever it takes the court.

5. Cleveland Cavaliers: 46-36

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    Current Record: 19-18

    Current Pace: 42-40

    FATS Projection: 40-42

    FATS Similarity: 2011-12 Portland Trail Blazers (98.16 percent match)

    The Cleveland Cavaliers are entirely unpredictable. 

    Though newly acquired Timofey Mozgov should be the best-fitting center Kevin Love has ever played with, as he's a solid interior defender and has far more passing skills than Nikola Pekovic ever possessed, there's no telling exactly how much he'll help the Cavs. Plus, we don't know what LeBron James will look like when he returns from the two-week hiatus he's using to rest his strained knees and lower back. 

    The Cavaliers have been thoroughly mediocre thus far. They're only on pace to win 42 games, and FATS indicates that they've overachieved by two wins, putting them on course to finish with a 40-42 record. But this team is too talented to flounder away like that, and the additions of Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert should help with its two biggest weaknesses, rim protection and perimeter defense. 

    Again though, there's no telling exactly what to expect.

    More so than with any other team, this record projection is very much falling into the realm of guesswork.

4. Toronto Raptors: 53-29

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    Current Record: 24-11

    Current Pace: 56-26

    FATS Projection: 51-31

    FATS Similarity: 2012-13 New York Knicks (97.68 percent match)

    The Toronto Raptors have been a fantastic basketball team thus far, surviving DeMar DeRozan's absence quite nicely. Kyle Lowry is not just a deserving All-Star, but a legitimate MVP candidate. He is flat-out carrying this squad with his efforts on both ends of the court. 

    However, these Raptors have overachieved rather drastically. 

    Though they're on pace to rack up 56 wins during the 2014-15 season, their statistical profile indicates that they've played like a 46-win squad. The issue isn't offense, where they currently have the No. 3 adjusted offensive efficiency in NBA history (107.73), trailing only the 2003-04 Dallas Mavericks (108.94) and 2004-05 Phoenix Suns (107.92). Rather, the problem is on the other end of the floor. 

    Toronto forces a lot of turnovers, but it's decidedly below the league average in each of the remaining Four Factors—opponents' effective field-goal percentage, defensive rebounding percentage and free throws allowed per field-goal attempt. As a result, the Raptors allow 107.8 points per 100 possessions, which is the No. 22 mark in the league. 

    If that 46-win level of play continues, they should finish with a 51-31 record. However, the eventual return of DeRozan will help the defense significantly, allowing the Raptors to partially split the difference between their current pace and the FATS projection. 

3. Washington Wizards: 54-28

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    Current Record: 25-11

    Current Pace: 57-25

    FATS Projection: 53-29

    FATS Similarity: 1996-97 Washington Bullets (98.43 percent match)

    The Washington Wizards are only trending up, as John Wall continues to establish himself as a dark-horse MVP candidate while racking up points and assists on a nightly basis. Though point guard is a ridiculously deep position, he's become one of the clear-cut elites at the 1 this season, thanks to his two-way play. 

    But Bradley Beal has also been a big difference-maker. With his ability to space out the court, he adds a new dimension to the offense in the nation's capital ever since returning 10 games into the 2014-15 campaign.

    He and Wall will only continue gaining chemistry, and the team almost has to stay healthier during the remaining portion of the season. Everyone is ready to go right now, but between Nene sitting out for a while, Beal's delayed start and a few random maladies here and there, the missed games have already piled up. 

    "The Washington Wizards are on pace for 56 wins, which would be the third-best record in franchise history and the first 50-win season since 1978-79, when the then-Bullets lost to the Seattle SuperSonics in the Finals,"'s J.A. Adande shared at the beginning of a fantastic feature on the team's star point guard. 

    It already seems safe to say they'll get over the 50-win barrier. How much further beyond that, however, remains to be seen.

2. Chicago Bulls: 57-25

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    Current Record: 25-12

    Current Pace: 55-27

    FATS Projection: 52-30

    FATS Similarity: 1991-92 Detroit Pistons (97.21 percent match)

    The Chicago Bulls, winners of 13 of their past 17 outings, are absolutely rolling right now.

    But even during that streak, which only saw the Windy City representatives beat a few legitimate playoff squads, there haven't been surefire indications that the Bulls will rise all the way to the top of the Eastern Conference. Over those 16 games, FATS shows that the team has played like a 45-win squad, which is actually a bit worse than it was prior to catching fire. 

    Weird, right? 

    The reason is that this current team basically defies comparison. During the 17-game sample, the top comparison is the Washington Bullets of 1979-80, and the match percent is only 95.01, which is rather weak. That's because this has been a great two-way team that operates in an extremely unorthodox manner on the offensive end, one that hasn't proven to be sustainable on many occasions. 

    The predicted regression—which the Bulls are talented enough to overcome, hence the projection I'm giving them that's five wins above the FATS mark—stems from Chicago producing an elite offensive rating by virtue of using so many possessions. This team has actually shot quite poorly, with an effective field-goal percentage that's below the league average. However, it never turns the ball over and has emerged as one of the best groups in NBA history when it comes to drawing fouls and getting offensive rebounds. 

    Now, we get to see how long the Bulls will continue to defy comparison. 

1. Atlanta Hawks: 58-24

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    Current Record: 28-8

    Current Pace: 64-18

    FATS Projection: 56-26

    FATS Similarity: 2001-02 Detroit Pistons (98.91 percent match)

    The Atlanta Hawks are playing with unabashed confidence right now. By playing completely unselfish basketball, utilizing a surprisingly deep roster and working with some of the best defense in the Association, they've gone 20-2 over their last 22 games. They've emerged as the surprise of the league and the top dog in the Eastern Conference. 

    But is it sustainable? 

    The FATS projection that stems from the full-season data is a bit pessimistic, and the same can be said about the projection from just the last 22 games. Despite that gaudy record, FATS has the Hawks performing like a 55-win squad. And interestingly enough for a team so commonly referred to as the Eastern version of the San Antonio Spurs, the top comparison is the 2012-13 Spurs. 

    If the Hawks continue to play at this level, they'll finish with 59 wins. That's still a tad aggressive for my liking. While this style of play seems quite sustainable and the team only appears to be improving as we progress closer and closer to the All-Star break, there's bound to be a bit of regression from the shooters. 

    Still, it's no longer unrealistic to think this team will finish atop its half of the NBA. It's not even that bold, really.

15. Minnesota Timberwolves: 14-68

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    Current Record: 5-30

    Current Pace: 12-70

    FATS Projection: 17-65

    FATS Similarity: 1984-85 Golden State Warriors (98.22 percent match)

    The Minnesota Timberwolves are eventually going to have Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin and Ricky Rubio back in the lineup. But how much will they play during a lost season when losing games is ultimately more advantageous? 

    This team is still best off letting the young players develop as much as possible, even if it means trading Pekovic and Martin for pennies on the dollar. Lately, it's worked out rather nicely, as guys like Andrew Wiggins and Shabazz Muhammad have developed well. Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman elaborates: 

    From implementing new moves, like post-ups, to tightening up the go-to ones he entered the league with, like step-backs, pull-ups and spins, we're starting to see Wiggins build and sharpen up his repertoire. 

    Over the last few weeks, Wiggins' production is simply proof that his offensive punch can do some damage. The next step is being able to pick and choose when and where to throw it.

    The more time Wiggins gets in this lead role, the better. And yes, that means it's perfectly fine for the losses to continue piling up.

14. Los Angeles Lakers: 26-56

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    Current Record: 11-25

    Current Pace: 25-57

    FATS Projection: 26-56

    FATS Similarity: 1978-79 Cleveland Cavaliers (98.09 percent match)

    The Los Angeles Lakers continue to plod along toward an offseason in which they hope to make a few big free-agent signings, though it's notable just how much Kobe Bryant's play has changed in his last handful of outings. 

    While Bryant began the season gunning for a scoring title and Michael Jordan's place on the all-time leaderboard, he's slowed down lately, playing much more passive basketball and focusing on distributing with increasing frequency. During his last seven appearances, he's averaged 15.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game, though he's still shooting a putrid 34 percent from the field. 

    Thing is, it doesn't matter how Bryant plays. This is a limited roster, especially in this injury-depleted form, and even the best efforts often aren't enough against the NBA's better teams.

    Los Angeles still checks in with the worst defense in the league, allowing 112.9 points per 100 possessions. That's simply not going to cut it, no matter how much Bryant's willingness to share helps the team's offense.

13. Sacramento Kings: 30-52

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    Current Record: 15-21

    Current Pace: 34-48

    FATS Projection: 34-48

    FATS Similarity: 2002-03 Atlanta Hawks (97.33 percent match)

    The Sacramento Kings have been caught in a ridiculous downward spiral ever since DeMarcus Cousins left the lineup with viral meningitis. During that stretch, the Kings fell firmly out of the uber-competitive postseason race, and owner Vivek Ranadive inexplicably decided to fire head coach Mike Malone, with whom Cousins enjoyed a close personal relationship. 

    Now, Cousins is back. But Sacramento isn't. 

    The defense has declined dramatically, and the newfound happy-go-lucky swagger of the organization has all but disappeared. Even with the league's best center back in the lineup since a Dec. 18 contest against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Kings have gone just 4-7, even needing an overtime period to survive an outing against the reeling New York Knicks. 

    During that 10-game stretch, FATS shows that the Kings have played like a 32-win squad, and they're trending in the wrong direction. The defense, which was the calling card early in the season, has all but disappeared, with Sacramento falling well below the average in three of the Four Factors. At least they've only fouled the opposition right at the league-average rate. 

    Tyrone Corbin hasn't been able to get anything out of his troops thus far, and there's no telling how long it will take them to gain their footing.

12. Utah Jazz: 31-51

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    Current Record: 13-24

    Current Pace: 29-53

    FATS Projection: 32-50

    FATS Similarity: 1983-84 San Diego Clippers (98.69 percent)

    The Utah Jazz are caught between two balancing factors. 

    While they have plenty of youthful pieces who figure to improve as the season goes on, their roster is so devoid of veteran rotation members that they're inevitably going to experience some significant growing pains as the season progresses. It's the classic case of two steps forward and then one step back, except the Jazz won't even make that much of a gain during the rest of the 2014-15 campaign. 

    But to the supporters of this franchise: Take solace in the development of some legitimately intriguing pieces. Derrick Favors continues to establish himself as a centerpiece, and Gordon Hayward is more than just a good player; he's slowly turning into a star. 

    Are the wins going to pile up during the 2015 portion of this season? Nope, probably not. 

    But that doesn't mean progress will be hard to find. And for a rebuilding organization with so much unrealized potential laying dormant on the depth chart, that's certainly a good thing.

11. Denver Nuggets: 34-48

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    Current Record: 17-20

    Current Pace: 38-44

    FATS Projection: 36-46

    FATS Similarity: 2003-04 Cleveland Cavaliers (98.21 percent match)

    While Kenneth Faried is finally starting to live up to some of the enormous preseason hype that he created with his play in Spain at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, the Denver Nuggets have tacitly admitted that they won't be competing for a playoff spot in 2014-15. 

    Trading Timofey Mozgov to the Cleveland Cavaliers for two protected first-round picks is most certainly a step backward in the present, hence the 34-48 projection falling short of the numbers you can see up above, but it's a good move for the future. Not only does Denver gain more assets and financial flexibility, but it gets a chance to develop Jusuf Nurkic, who has been quite effective in his previously limited role. 

    Still, there's no question that the Nuggets are due for a little bit of a downward trajectory in the coming weeks as they adjust to life without Mozgov. He was easily the more established center, and now Brian Shaw will have to get Nurkic to avoid fouling so he can stay on the court and help keep his team remain somewhat competitive. 

    There haven't been signs of an all-out firesale in the Mile High City yet, but if Wilson Chandler or Arron Afflalo is moved next, it could still be coming. And if that happens, it may be tough for Denver to finish the season with more than 30 wins.

10. New Orleans Pelicans: 41-41

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    Current Record: 18-18

    Current Pace: 41-41

    FATS Projection: 41-41

    FATS Similarity: 2001-02 Washington Wizards (98.52 percent match)

    The New Orleans Pelicans, barring an unforeseen gamble during trade season, aren't going anywhere in 2014-15. 

    Despite Anthony Davis' unsurpassed brilliance during his third professional season, there simply isn't enough talent around him. Even when Eric Gordon returns to the lineup, however effective he's going to be, the Pelicans still have to give meaningful minutes to guys like Dante Cunningham, Luke Babbitt, Austin Rivers and Jimmer Fredette. 

    That's simply not a recipe for success. 

    The future looks bright for this squad if it can add a few more pieces, as it has arguably the league's best building block at its disposal. But there's been no evidence thus far that these Pelicans will do anything other than hang around at .500 throughout the season, only falling above or below that neutral mark by a handful of games at any point. 

    It's enough for playoff dreams to remain alive, but it won't be enough to play more than 82 contests this season.

9. Oklahoma City Thunder: 46-36

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    Current Record: 18-19

    Current Pace: 40-42

    FATS Projection: 40-42

    FATS Similarity: 2012-13 Chicago Bulls (98.46 percent match)

    What? The Oklahoma City Thunder aren't going to make the playoffs? 

    It may seem as though this team is a lock to advance past the end of the regular season now that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are both back on the court. However, there's no statistical evidence to support that assumption now that the team directly ahead of them in these projections is on a tear. 

    Since Durant returned in a game against the New Orleans Pelicans, OKC has played like a 51-win squad, according to FATS. That puts the Thunder on pace to finish with a 46-36 record, which won't be enough to get into the playoffs in the brutally difficult Western Conference. In the East, it would earn the No. 5 seed, but the disparity between the two halves of the Association is a topic for another time and place. 

    Of course, that projection is still a little misleading, even if it's more accurate than the 40-42 estimate that uses data from the entire completed portion of the season. After all, Durant fell back out of the lineup with a severely sprained ankle, and he's only just now back to full strength—or at least something close to it. 

    So, let's isolate what happens when Durant is playing. 

    With the reigning MVP on the court, the Thunder have still "only" played like a 55-win team. That's more impressive, but he's not always on the floor. OKC declines to a 39-win squad when he's resting, whether as a substitute or due to injury, and he's only going to play around 36 minutes per game throughout the rest of the season. That estimate may actually be an aggressive one, and interestingly enough, that ratio of time on the court and bench means the Thunder are still a 51-win team.

    The season-end projection still comes out at 46-36. 

    It's easy to say the Thunder feel like a postseason lock now. But they aren't one. 

8. Phoenix Suns: 49-33

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    Current Record: 22-17

    Current Pace: 46-36

    FATS Projection: 47-35

    FATS Similarity: 1998-99 Milwaukee Bucks (99.05 percent match)

    Normally, 46 wins would be enough to get a team into the playoffs as a No. 8 seed, but the Phoenix Suns are going to make that rather difficult for their competitors from the Western Conference. They're on pace to win 47 games this year, a number supported by the underlying statistics. 

    But lately, they've been even better. 

    During their last dozen games, the offense has caught fire. Everything has come together, and the improved shooting touch and ability to get to the charity stripe has left the desert dwellers looking like a 57-win squad. That would put them on track to finish the season with a 52-30 record, one that leaves them in the No. 8 spot with room to spare. 

    To be fair, that pace is a bit aggressive. The Suns have benefitted from an easy schedule over the past few weeks, and they're likely to slow down a bit. But even if they regress back to the level at which they were playing prior to catching fire, they're still the favorites to hold down the West's final spot. 

    This may not be the popular prediction. It certainly leaves two of the league's most exciting players—Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook—out of the playoff field. 

    Nonetheless, it's the most likely outcome at this point in the season, especially now that the team has added depth at the 5 by acquiring Brandan Wright from the Boston Celtics, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski

7. San Antonio Spurs: 52-30

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Current Record: 22-15

    Current Pace: 49-33

    FATS Projection: 49-33

    FATS Similarity: 2010-11 Dallas Mavericks (98.74 percent)

    Leave it to the San Antonio Spurs to be on pace to win fewer than 50 games for the first time—excluding lockout-shortened seasons—since the 1996-97 season, when Gregg Popovich replaced Bob Hill as head coach 19 outings in to the season, and still draw such a favorable comaprison. 

    That's right. The Spurs' statistical profile compares most accurately to the one produced by the 2010-11 Dallas Mavericks, a team that went 57-25 during the regular season, then rode Dirk Nowitzki to a title that came at the expense of the newly formed Miami Heat. 

    The bad news is that this won't be the most similar team from NBA history by the end of the season. The good news is why. 

    Popovich is the undisputed master of getting his teams to go on late-season runs. It seems to happen every year, and this season shouldn't be any different, especially because the Spurs have suffered through so many injuries—most notably to Kawhi Leonard—and still haven't had a chance to play at full strength. 

    When they finally get that opportunity, they'll start to climb up the standings. It will be too late for a legitimate chase after the No. 1 seed, but it doesn't appear as though Tim Duncan—the current favorite for Defensive Player of the Year, despite his advanced age—will experience the first sub-50-win season of his incredible career.

6. Los Angeles Clippers: 54-28

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    Current Record: 24-12

    Current Pace: 55-27

    FATS Projection: 52-30

    FATS Similarity: 2001-02 Dallas Mavericks (97.48 percent match)

    The Los Angeles Clippers struggled at the beginning of the year, inexplicably forgetting how to play elite defense after looking like such strong contenders in 2013-14. But lately, they've ramped up their level of performance, particularly on the defensive end of the court. 

    Blake Griffin is gaining confidence. Chris Paul is steady as ever. DeAndre Jordan is finally starting to look like the defensive anchor he so often served as during his breakout season last year.

    Everything is coming together. 

    Over the last seven games, LAC has performed like a 56-win squad, which is a significant improvement over how this outfit looked prior to getting hot. That should be enough for the Clippers to stay close to their current win-loss pace and hang around in the middle of the Western Conference playoff field. 

    Are these Clippers threats to move all the way up to No. 1 in the NBA's tougher half? Not really this year, unless Doc Rivers makes a power play and trades for a significantly better small forward who sends Matt Barnes either to a different squad or into a smaller role. 

    But that doesn't mean they can be taken lightly. No team in this historically stacked Western playoff contingent can be.

5. Houston Rockets: 55-27

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Current Record: 25-11

    Current Pace: 57-25

    FATS Projection: 52-30

    FATS Similarity: 1980-81 Phoenix Suns (97.78 percent match)

    As Kirk Goldsberry brilliantly wrote for Grantland, James Harden has emerged as the future of basketball. He's an analytic dream who always avoids mid-range looks and takes advantage of the most efficient spots on the court: 

    As of today, James Harden is the leading scorer in the NBA and the most important offensive force on a team in the thick of the Western Conference title race. He’s a legitimate MVP candidate, quite clearly the best shooting guard in the league. And yet, he’s more than that. Those plaudits only scratch the surface of what he’s doing this season.

    When Daryl Morey, the mad scientist of analytics, landed Harden in the trade of the decade, he not only got the superstar he coveted, he also acquired the perfect instrument for his basketball laboratory.

    But even with Harden leading the charge, the Houston Rockets have only been able to put together a middling offense, one that ranks No. 15 in offensive rating by scoring a league-average 106 points per 100 possessions. It's still defense where this team earns its keep, and the point-preventing unit has only added more dangerous pieces after trading for Corey Brewer and signing Josh Smith. 

    Even though Smith has struggled to gain his footing in Houston, this team isn't going anywhere. Chances are, it only gets better as the season progresses and the new acquisitions become more comfortable. Plus, Terrence Jones should eventually return from the peroneal nerve contusion he suffered in early November, though there's still no telling when exactly that will happen.

4. Dallas Mavericks: 56-26

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Current Record: 26-11

    Current Pace: 58-24

    FATS Projection: 55-27

    FATS Similarity: 2001-02 Seattle SuperSonics (97.46 percent match)

    The Dallas Mavericks' record looks fantastic since acquiring Rajon Rondo from the Boston Celtics. He's played in 10 games and only experienced three losses, all of which have come at the hands of red-hot teams—the Detroit Pistons, Phoenix Suns and Atlanta Hawks. 

    The wins, however, haven't been exceedingly impressive. Despite that gaudy 7-3 record, one that would leave the Mavericks on pace to win 57 games, FATS indicates they've been playing like a squad capable of earning one fewer victory. It's not a huge difference, but it's important to note because the improvement hasn't really been all that significant since he came to town. 

    Sure, the defense has made major strides. The problem is that progress has been mitigated by a corresponding decline on the offensive end of the court, which is due to a combination of easing Rondo into the lineup, him not necessarily making the team better because he takes the ball away from Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki and natural regression to the mean after the team's historically excellent start to the season. 

    Before Rondo came to town, Dallas posted a 116.8 offensive rating, one that would lead the league with room to spare if it still remained that high. But in the 10 games since the big trade, the offensive rating has been a much less impressive 109.1, which would rank just outside the top five. 

    Having the former All-Star on the roster gives Dallas another big name and will lead to plenty of jersey sales. But does he make the team that much better? It's too early to draw firm conclusions, but the early indications point toward only minor improvement. 

3. Memphis Grizzlies: 57-25

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    Current Record: 25-11

    Current Pace: 57-25

    FATS Projection: 51-31

    FATS Similarity: 2005-06 Denver Nuggets (98.58 percent match)

    Though nothing is official yet,'s Marc Stein tweeted out Friday, "ESPN sources say Jeff Green is essentially a member of the Grizzlies now. Teams have agreed to the deal and hope to complete it tonight." 

    The Grizzlies knew that they couldn't be satisfied with their current roster, as they still needed a move or two in order to keep pace with the other improving squads in the Western Conference. They're correct to feel that way. 

    Though the Grizzlies have won a ton of games thus far, they've been overachievers. FATS indicates that their statistical profile is more indicative of a team that will go 51-31 over the full 82-game season, not 57-25, and that's a big difference at this stage of the season. 

    Fortunately, they might not have needed to make an external move in order to improve.

    Zach Randolph has been out with a right knee injury ever since exiting early in a Dec. 19 game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, but he returned Friday night against the New Orleans Pelicans. With the power forward back in the lineup, the Grizzlies are much more dangerous. That's especially true on the glass, where they're below the league-average rebounding percentages on both ends of the floor.

    Now, add in Green, who's a significant upgrade over Tayshaun Prince on the wings, due to his two-way ability and remarkable athleticism. With an expected starting five that now features Mike Conley, Green, Randolph and Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies should exceed their FATS projection by a rather significant margin. This is one of the teams that most certainly has a great shot at homecourt advantage in the first round of the loaded Western Conference playoffs.

2. Portland Trail Blazers: 58-24

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Current Record: 28-8

    Current Pace: 64-18

    FATS Projection: 59-23

    FATS Similarity: 1991-92 Boston Celtics (97.46 percent match)

    The only real questions here involve health. 

    At this point, the Portland Trail Blazers have established themselves as legitimate contenders. Behind Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, they continue to boast one of the best offenses in the NBA, though it's not been quite as successful as last year's version. But the big change has come on the other end, where Terry Stotts' strategy of running players off the three-point arc has helped the team submit the No. 2 defensive rating in basketball, trailing only the Golden State Warriors. 

    That's one heck of a combination, and it appears perfectly long as Rip City stays healthy.

    The Blazers have survived Robin Lopez's broken hand thus far, but that's only made the squad even thinner. And if Lillard or Aldridge goes down for a significant amount of time, there's no way to replace either of them. Portland's bench still hasn't been particularly impressive, nor does it spend many minutes on the floor during the average game. 

    Still, these Blazers are legitimate contenders. Along with the Dubs, they're one of only two teams in the league with top-seven units on both ends of the court. 

    Don't expect them to go anywhere.

1. Golden State Warriors: 61-21

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    Current Record: 29-5

    Current Pace: 70-12

    FATS Projection: 61-21

    FATS Similarity: 1980-81 Philadelphia 76ers (97.1 percent match)

    Remember how the Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks have been so bad this season they sort of defy comparison? The Golden State Warriors are in the opposite situation, as they've been so remarkably good—still on pace to win 70 games!—that there aren't many good matches throughout the four relevant decades of NBA history. 

    The 1980-81 Philadelphia 76ers are the top fit, but a 97.1 percent match isn't particularly strong. So in reality, the reason the FATS projection and the win-loss estimate I'm giving here are identical is that any regression during the remaining portion of the season is coming from what should really be a higher number. 

    Andrew Bogut is also back in the lineup, though his presence hasn't been as impactful as you might think. FATS shows that the Dubs only play at a pace that's three wins better over the course of a season when the defensive anchor is on the floor, though that's more a reflection on the depth of this team and the play of Draymond Green than Bogut's actual performance. 

    Will the league start to figure out some of what the Warriors are doing so well? Probably, but this team has been supremely dominant and is adding back a key piece that only makes it even deeper. Plus, they're quite confident, as this passage from Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher makes clear: 

    As well as the Warriors are playing, the belief in the locker room is that they have yet to play anywhere near their best. "We don't even have our rotations set," said one player, referring to starter David Lee's long absence, the growing role of Justin Holiday and both Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli being in and out of the lineup. "Wait until we've actually had everybody playing together for a while."

    I'm not entirely sure how much better this team can play.

    But one thing I am certain of is that at this point in the year, predicting any other squad to finish with more wins than Golden State is just wrong. 

    Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference and are current through Jan. 9's games.