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Power Rankings: Nets close calls, defense gets them some cred

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NBA: Toronto Raptors at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Nets may not win games, but they are winning cred among the pundits who compile NBA Power Rankings. More than one note their improved defense and their never-say-die attitude.

The numbers, which really don’t matter much, are what they have been for weeks, bunched in the upper 20’s, between 20 and 23.

The message from pundits: Better luck next time.

John Schuhmann, (22)

The Nets are the only team that hasn’t won a game in its own division, though divisions don’t matter and they’ve given the Celtics two close games in the last eight days. Their last five games have been their best defensive stretch of the season (96 points allowed per 100 possessions), where only 51 percent of their opponents’ shots have come from the restricted area or 3-point range. With that mark at 57 percent for the season, they’re No. 1 in shot-location defense by a wide margin (the next highest mark is Dallas at 61 percent). They remain banged up (with DeMarre Carroll suffering a knee injury on the last play of their loss to the Celtics on Saturday), but Jahlil Okafor is finally getting to play and managed to put up 12 shots in less than 13 minutes against Boston.

Jose DeLeon, ESPN (23)

Spencer Dinwiddie is the only Nets player to attempt a go-ahead shot in the final 24 seconds of the fourth quarter/overtime this season (he has attempted four). On Wednesday against the Timberwolves, he made his first of the season with 10.1 seconds left to beat Minnesota.

Chris Barnewall, CBS Sports (23)

Jahlil Okafor is finally in game shape and playing for the Nets. He had 12 points on 12 shots in 13 minutes. He’s basically a gunner center off the bench, and yes, that’s as awesome as it sounds.

Kenny Ducey, Sports Illustrated (22)

I swear, you can turn on any Nets game, at any point, and they’re right in it. For a while, it looked like they were going to pull off the upset over the Celtics this week. Spencer Dinwiddie continues to be phenomenal and just as Rondae Hollis-Jefferson hits a mini-snag, Joe Harris comes flying in out of nowhere! Add him to the list of Nets beginning to break out this year.

Brad Rowland, DIME (23)

There is no shame whatsoever in losing to the Raptors and Celtics by a combined three points. Brooklyn wasn’t able to pick up a victory in either spot but they were impressive in battling to the end.

Gerald Bourguet, Hoops Habit (24)

Painfully competitive week for the Brooklyn Nets, who eked out a one-point win over Minnesota before falling to the Celtics and Raptors by a combined three points.

However, the good news is Spencer Dinwiddie is looking like the real deal, knocking down the clutch shot against the Wolves and averaging 25.7 points per game for the week. Also on the bright side: D’Angelo Russell is set to practice in the G League, signaling the first step to getting him back on the court.

Grant Hughes, Bleacher Report (26)

Caris LeVert tallied 11 assists when the Brooklyn Nets smoked the Miami Heat on Dec. 29 and eight more in a win over the Magic on Monday. LeVert also put in the go-ahead bucket with just over a minute left in that one.

With D’Angelo Russell and Jeremy Lin sidelined with knee injuries, Spencer Dinwiddie has ably handled starting duties. He hit the go-ahead bucket with 10 seconds left Wednesday against the Timberwolves. But LeVert has quietly taken over just as critical a role as a reserve playmaker and steadying presence.

”I feel like a [leader] is somebody that others can look to and not necessarily have all the right answers, but try to do things the right way,” he told Anthony Puccio of NetsDaily. “They don’t have to necessarily be vocal or demonstrative, but just somebody who exemplifies good behavior and somebody who does things that you want to do.”

That’s the kind of comment you’d expect from a guy who’s been exceptionally productive but somehow unperturbed by starting just twice in the last two months.

Brooklyn rose on the strength of its first multi-win rankings session since December’s opening week. The Nets have won three out of four.

AJ Neuharth-Keusch, USA Today (23)

The Nets earned their 15th win of the season on Wednesday — a mark they didn’t reach until March 23 last season.