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Hornets close in on champ Lakers

It seems like every year an overachiever comes along to remind us that a well-coached team that plays hard and adheres to roles can ambush pundits and fans alike with a magical season. Last year, the Oklahoma City Thunder were that team. In 2007-08, the New Orleans Hornets were that team. Early in 2010-11, the Hornets appear to be at it again.

In Chris Paul, New Orleans has a superstar who is once again healthy and on top of his game. But it's the supporting cast fashioned by new general manager Dell Demps and new coach Monty Williams that has made the Hornets the NBA's feel-good story so far.

Paul is first among equals, and power forward David West is a clear No. 2. But Paul and West -- who had that beguiling taste of postseason success three years ago -- have endured enough frustration since that last playoff-series victory to fully appreciate how a band of unsung newcomers has enabled the Hornets' early-season success, and the two mainstays have bought into the system.

New Orleans has some scorers -- Marcus Thornton, Peja Stojakovic and preseason acquisition Jerryd Bayless -- who have been shelved or had their playing time curtailed in favor of the likes of Marco Belinelli, Jason Smith and Willie Green, three obscure first-year Hornets who better implement Williams' defensive-oriented approach. Add in ball-hawking swingman Trevor Ariza and rejuvenated center Emeka Okafor, and the Hornets play with a style that minimizes letdowns and allows Paul's brilliance and West's proficiency to win games in the fourth quarter.

At 6-0, including quality victories against the Heat and Spurs, New Orleans trails only the Lakers in this week's Power Rankings. The Hornets may be unlikely to remain that high throughout the season, but they deserve the No. 2 spot right now.

(All stats and records are through Nov. 8.)

NBA Power Rankings

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