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Brooklyn Nets pose stern challenge to Celtics, even without 6 of their best players

The Brooklyn Nets limp into Boston on Monday night with what feels like the bulk of their roster on the sidelines nursing injuries, but don’t let the lack of manpower fool you — the Nets are very quietly one of the hottest teams in the NBA.

With 12 wins in their last 15 games, the Nets are pushovers no more. That’s a far cry from the days of Celtics fans dreaming about what the Brooklyn picks might bring. We now know they contributed to the arrivals of Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Kyrie Irving. No complaints there.

If you lost track of the Nets after the C’s shipped their final pick to Cleveland for Irving 18 months ago, be aware that they’re a legitimately tough out. At 20-21, they’re the seventh seed in the East. Since ending an eight-game losing streak in early December, they’ve won 12 of 15, including victories over the Raptors, Sixers, and Lakers. Even more impressively, they’ve done it without breakout forward Caris LeVert, who suffered a gruesome foot dislocation in November that looked like it would sideline him for the season, though the Nets subsequently announced cautious optimism that he could return this year.

In LeVert’s place, DeMarre Carroll had stepped up after missing the first 11 games of the season while recovering from an ankle injury, with back-to-back 20-point outings in wins over the Grizzlies and Bulls that pulled the Nets within a game of .500.

However, Carroll is one of many Nets who won’t play on Monday. He’s out with a sore knee. He’ll be joined on the sidelines by LeVert, shooting guard Allen Crabbe (knee), guard Joe Harris (ankle) forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (adductor), and swingman Dzanan Musa (shoulder).

The Nets are being carried by former Lakers castoff D’Angelo Russell, who’s averaging over 18 points and six assists a game, as well as underrated guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who’s posting a career-high 17.2 points a game to go along with 5.2 assists.

The Celtics have won five of seven and 13 of 18 after a 10-10 start, but they’ve also managed to come up small against some inferior competition, with losses to the second-division Magic, as well as the woeful Knicks and Suns. If they’re not careful, the Nets could similarly surprise them tonight.

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