NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Monty Williams decided it was time to loosen the reins on Jason Smith. By the looks of things, the Hornets coach won't be reeling the blossoming 7-footer back in any time soon.
Smith scored 22 points, hitting 10 of 12 shots, to lead New Orleans to a 105-96 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night.
"I've watched his development and I've watched him play himself out of restrictions," Williams said. "I had restrictions on him when he first got here and now we just say, 'Jason, you've got to go out there and make plays.'"
It was the second time in three games that Smith had led the injury-riddled Hornets to a victory. The former Colorado State standout had 26 points and 10 rebounds in a victory last Saturday over Minnesota.
"I don't know why he's not getting any acclaim for most improved (player)," Williams said. "Look at where he came from last year. This year, nobody expected Jason to be the kind of guys that comes in, hits big shots, plays good defense. ... He's 7 feet tall. He can shoot to 18 feet. He can dunk. He can go to the basket. He plays solid defense. He's not afraid of the moment."
Smith averaged 4.3 points in 14.3 minutes per game off the bench last season. Now in his fourth NBA season, Smith is averaging close to 10 points in about 24 minutes per game.
"I'm trying to be more aggressive," Smith said. "Over time you develop your stuff in practice. ... I think that's what coach has allowed me to do. He sees me work in practice and he knows how hard I work."
Smith wasn't the only Hornet shooting well against the Kings' porous defense,.
Marco Belinelli added 21 points and Greivis Vasquez 15 for New Orleans, which shot 55.9 percent (38 of 68) and surged ahead for good with an 18-3 run in the third quarter. Hornets reserve guard Xavier Henry scored 14 points, while Chris Kaman grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked three shots.
Marcus Thornton led all scorers with 25 points and Tyreke Evans added 19 points for the Kings, who have lost six straight.
DeMarcus Cousins had early foul trouble and played only 20 minutes, missing nine of his 12 shots.
But Kings head coach Keith Smart cited the play of the Hornets' Smith as the key to the game.
"That guy changed the game with his activity and his energy," Smart said. "He was a big question that if he played well, they would have a shot to win and that is what happened."
Sacramento led 59-53 after Jason Thompson's three-point play on a layup as he was fouled, but then managed only one basket during a span of more than five minutes while the Hornets made their decisive run.
"Since our team is so young, when things are going good, they are going great. When things aren't going well, we get exposed," said Thompson, who scored 18 points. "We just have to get where we finish games strong."
Kaman's 15-foot fade started New Orleans' spurt, during which he added a basket from inside. Vasquez hit a pair of jumpers, Henry converted a steal into a breakaway dunk and Belinelli hit one of his three 3s as the Hornets built a 71-62 lead.
New Orleans' lead reached 11 when Vasquez's 3 made it 79-68 late in the period and got as large as 12 early in the fourth quarter, when Gustavo Ayon tipped in Carl Landry's missed free throw as he was fouled for a three-point play that made it 84-72
The Kings pulled back as close as 94-90 when Evans' jumper capped an 8-2 spurt, but Vasquez hit a jumper and Belinelli found Kaman cutting to the basket for a layup to give New Orleans enough of a cushion to hold on.Terrence Williams added 16 for the Kings, who shot 43.4 percent and were hurt by missing 15 of 22 shots they attempted from 3-point range. New Orleans outrebounded Sacramento 44-37.
Thornton, a former LSU star and Hornets player, had 13 of his points in the first quarter, when Sacramento took its largest lead at 29-20.
New Orleans erased its deficit early in the second period and Belinelli's 3 gave the Hornets a 50-49 lead at halftime.
Notes: Hornets G Jerome Dyson made his debut, one day after being signed to a 10-day contract. The rookie out of Connecticut was the 21st player to appear in a game for the Hornets this season. He had 3 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds and a steal in 23-plus minutes. .... Hornets G Eric Gordon missed his second straight game with a back injury. ... Thornton scored 20 or more in three of his four games against New Orleans this season. ... Cousins, who had seven points, failed to reach double figures in scoring for only 10th time this season.