0 out of 5

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    Believe it or not, the 2018-19 season of the NBA has already reached halfway.

    Any trend that has been going on for so long can now be classified as a surprise or disappointment in its own right.

    Maybe we are still intoxicated by the positivity of starting a new year, but we will only focus on surprises. (Please, Wizards of Washington.) Although there are different degrees of surprise, each one fits the pattern of pre-season projections that comfortably outperform.

    Oh, and we're only looking at the clubs we're planning to be in the 2019 playoffs. Astonished as we've been by the Sacramento Kings (and sometimes by the Dallas Mavericks led by Luka Doncic), we're bearish as for their chances of participating in the playoffs and therefore, we leave them out of the list.

1 of 5

    Mary Altaffer / Associated Press

    The Brooklyn Nets have not broken their record since Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Andrei Kirilenko toured Barclays Center. Their last playoff team was led by Lionel Hollins and led by Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Brook Lopez.

    It's been a minute.

    There was little reason to think that the drought would end this season. Brooklyn played 28-54 last season and apparently had an inconsequential summer. During the project, the organization threw darts at Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs. Ed Davis and Shabazz Napier have "highlighted" the success of the operation.

    Vegas reviewed this list and saw a winning team of 32.5. Until now, rival coaches see the same group as a potentially boring opponent in the playoffs.

    "I would be surprised if this team is not in playoffs," said Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens recently. "They are terribly good … I love the way they play, they play hard, they play together, everyone knows what they are supposed to do, and they do it every night. "

    Dr. Angelo Russell has never been so handsome in volume and efficiency. Spencer Dinwiddie continues to break his career cap. Joe Harris eliminates 50% of the field for the first time and does the same thing from a distance. Kurucs has become the last hidden gem, offering the versatility of a modern wing the size of a small ball center.

    The Nets, who once had the impression of running for 8-18, sprinted 13-4 in the past month, the same time Kurucs broke the rotation. Brooklyn is now appearing for the playoffs, and Kenny Atkinson should end up on most of the coaching ballots this year.

2 out of 5

    Bart Young / Getty Images

    The Denver Nuggets could have felt like they were above the "surprise" threshold since the start of the campaign with a 9-1 sprint and seemingly relentless ever since. The ranking (28-12) and the statistics sheet (plus-5.5 net) agree that it is the best team in the Western Conference.

    But even the most fervent supporters of the Nuggets could admit that they have not seen this to come up.

    It was not a playoff team last season, while their 46-36 record left them shy of a game. Their biggest off-season investments were made internally, like the $ 148 million maximum extension of Nikola Jokic and the $ 54 million deal signed by Will Barton. Otherwise, they hoped to do good business with the red medical flag (Michael Porter Jr. and Isaiah Thomas) and rewarded the winner of the summer league, Monte Morris, by converting his contract back and forth into a contract with the NBA.

    Vegas feared another decisive playoff battle, setting the Denver barrier at 47.5 wins. The Nuggets could beat that two-digit number based on their 57-win pace.

    Their attack is as explosive as expected (sixth in efficiency), powered by Jokic as a rare point center and Jamal Murray as a tireless and flammable perimeter scorer. But it's the dramatic improvement in defense (from 23rd to ninth) that suggests that this group could be more than a prodigy of the regular season.

    "Denver is deep, versatile, balanced … and has two guys who can put the team on the back against even the elite defenses," Dan Devine wrote for The Ringer. "It sounds like a recipe for a long playoff series."

3 of 5

    Michael Owen Baker / Associate Press

    For the second season in a row, the post-Paul George Indiana Pacers broke expectations before the season. After last year 's 48 victories, bookkeepers challenged to maintain this success with a 47.5 wins / finals win. Indy responded by completing the first half of his calendar at a pace of 54 wins.

    The recovery is pretty impressive. But maybe the biggest surprise in Circle City is the method of success. The Pacers have made progress without checking several boxes which, in their opinion, would be essential for future growth.

    Victor Oladipo did not continue his ascent. he took a step back. Potential scorer No. 2, Tyreke Evans, has instead landed sixth and could still fall if he fails to correct his shot below 40%. Other off-season importers, Kyle O 'Quinn and Aaron Holiday, struggled to find consistent minutes. The offensive went from the 11th best unit in the NBA to 16th.

    How do Pacers do this work? For beginners, their defense has gone from the 12th to the 2nd, largely thanks to defensive player of the year candidate Myles Turner. The great fourth-year man has a total of 2.8 blocks per game in the NBA, a 22.1-percent defensive rebound, the highest of his career, and double his best-ever precedent with one more defensive box of 4.6.

    "The organization came to see me and said," Your offense is going to happen, but we need you to be the best defensive player in the NBA, "and I really took that at heart, "Turner told reporters in December.

    This did not detract from the fact that Bojan Bogdanovic is erasing his career shooting rates on the field and three, or that Domantas Sabonis is converting an absurd percentage of 62.1% of his goals. While Pacers could use more struts (less than three marks), their dominance inside the bow gave them the third highest percentage of field goals in the game. Association.

4 out of 5

    Andrew D. Bernstein / Getty Images

    All-Star's second round of voting has come and the Los Angeles Clippers do not have a top-ten guard or player in the western forecourt. This probably surprises no one, except perhaps for Steve Ballmer, his owner. This conference brings together the entire first 2017 NBA team and six of the second and third teams, after all.

    The Clippers are willingly – and, they hope, temporarily – without a star. They exchanged Chris Paul in June 2017 and moved Blake Griffin in the following January. In the absence of familiar names, the semi-celebrity roles are now split between the essentially anonymous core of Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell and rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

    Yet only four teams from the Western Conference have a better winning percentage than L.A.

    "I have to admit that I have not seen the Clippers play at their current level," said Steve Aschburner of NBA.com. "They sewed a laudable string of markers, leaders, defenders, role players, and leaders, and they managed the trio of points at a good pace and stayed on the bow at the other end. taking care of the business without fail. " . "

    It's one of the best jobs that head coach Doc Rivers has ever accomplished, not just because he works without a star. This organization has huge plans for the coming off season and, because of them, most of its players play with expired or short term contracts. This may be the recipe for a franchise, but chemistry is one of the driving forces behind the Clippers' success.

    Of course, it does not hurt that Harris suddenly becomes a 21 point marker with a close shot of 50/40/90. Or that, touch wood, the virus of the wound finally leaves Gallinari alone. Or that Williams is as productive by the minute as ever, Harrell is becoming one of the best basketball deals and Gilgeous-Alexander is among the most NBA-ready rookies in this category.

5 out of 5

    Stacy Revere / Getty Images

    Granted, there were reasons to be optimistic about Milwaukee Bucks. Each season apparently brings Giannis Antetokounmpo closer to the basketball world, and he gets into it with a more favorable system (set up by new coach Mike Budenholzer) and better players (in charge of shooters).

    That said, the Bucks have 44 wins. A leap forward could have pushed them into the top 40, but Vegas has set a more conservative mark of 46.5. Expectations called for something between a hope for the playoffs and a boring opponent in the first round.

    Milwaukee did not receive the memo. Behind a supercharged Giannis, a nonstop offensive approach and a defense going from the usable (18th) to the stifling (third), the Bucks managed to control the entire campaign. No one has a higher victory percentage than his 0.725. No one has a better net score than their plus-9.2.

    Antetokounmpo is on a short list of MVP candidates and may deserve to be the favorite. He is good at everything except outside shooting. In all categories of statistics other than the three points, he is probably leading the standings with the top 15 points, rebounds and blocks. When he is on the ground, the Bucks shave their opponents by 11.3 points for 100 possessions.

    "I really think it's our belief inside this locker room, and a lot around the league, that we have the best player in the league here," said Brook Lopez, of Tim MacMahon's # 39; ESPN.com. "He does it in so many ways, he's improving his players so much, he's constantly in the field, it's so impressive to watch every night."

    Milwaukee must continue to progress to achieve its greatest goals, but it is surprising how much and how fast this club has improved.

    Statistics provided by Basketball Reference and NBA.com and accurate at matches played Thursday.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.