Byron Scott: Hornets "are not one of the elite teams in this league."

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Rasual Butler driving mad

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Photograph by Jonathan Bachman

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On any other night, a nine-point win agains the Houstson Rockets to earn a three-way tie for first in the Southwest Division may have made the New Orleans Hornets content with their status in the NBA. But coming off two embarrassing losses, including yesterday's 68–88 debacle in Orlando on national television, the Hornets needed to remind themselves how much effort it takes to be counted among the league's best.

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 "I think one of the problems with our team this year is we started listening to the hype," coach Byron Scott said. "Right now, we are not one of the elite teams in this league. You look at the elite teams, they bring it every night and that's what we got to get to."

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If the Hornets can replicate tonight's effort against the visiting Rockets, they'll be sitting pretty in the Western Conference. The Hornets held Houston to just 36.1% shooting and limited Tracy McGrady to just 11 points on 2-of-11 shooting. The Hornets also held an edge on points in the paint (42–34) and second chance points (17–7). Melvin Ely said that the Hornets' fluidity and movement on the offensive end was a direct result of their mental approach to the game.

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"We made a concious effort to stop playing with a short shot clock," he said. "That's something that plagued us the last two games. We made sure we got a good shot early."

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It was that movement and aggression that's been the difference for the Hornets this year. On nights where everyone is moving on the floor and creating chances, New Orleans is usually successful. In games where players are standing around waiting for something to happen, like against Los Angeles and Orlando, the Hornets usually end up losing.

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Unfortunately, too many times this season the Hornets have come out flat against opponenets and it's been the difference between them being a top team and an elite team. When told of Scott's post-game comments about how much the Hornets still have to accomplish to be considered among the NBA's elite, David West said it was obvious.

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"The top teams in the NBA are able to go out and execute," he said. "They do what they do and make other teams have to deal with them. We're not there. We're not even close."

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There are big wins and there are big wins. Then there are games tonight's where a team like New Orleans reminds itself just how good it can be and the effort it will take continue to play at that level.

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