NEW ORLEANS — Monty Williams promised that the season would wind down with him finding out how his youngest players could handle pressure.
Wednesday night, he had to have liked what he saw. New Orleans’ least-experienced players showed late-game steel, holding off Sacramento 105-96.
Two nights after the Hornets lost to the Lakers because they didn’t have patience with the lead, New Orleans appeared to have learned its lesson.
“The other night against the Lakers, I thought when they went up by three, we felt like we had to swing for the fences,” Williams said, “and tonight we were a bit more patient, evidenced by 36 free throws. We were able to get some good spacing and attack the basket, but I thought Greivis (Vasquez) made good decisions.”
Vasquez is part of that youth movement and for the fifth straight game, he scored in double figures, putting up 15 with five assists.
“He’s being smart,” Vasquez said of Williams’ move to play younger players. “I think that’s a good move. He’s giving us experience. Not every coach does. Not a lot of the coaches in the league do that (and) put a young guy out there so he can learn. As a young guy, you’ve got to take advantage of that.”
New Orleans picked up its third win in the past five games despite not having Eric Gordon for the second game in a row.
A trio of players stepped up in his absence, however.
Jason Smith finished an efficient 10 of 12 for 22 points and had six rebounds, Marco Belinelli put in 21 points and Xavier Henry added 14 points off the bench.
But like so many other nights for New Orleans, the fourth quarter initiated the meltdown sequence that almost cost them.
Up 88-77 with 9:10 to play, the Hornets began to allow Sacramento back into the game by lacking on offense.
New Orleans went 3 of 9 during a seven-minute stretch, allowing the Kings to stick around.
Sacramento worked the Hornets lead down to 96-92 on Tyreke Evans’ driving layup. And with 4:05 still on the clock, the prospects seemed dire for New Orleans.
But Chris Kaman hit a layup, Vasquez and Al-Farouq Aminu combined to hit 3 of 4 free throws and the Kings went cold.
New Orleans held Sacramento to 1-for-8 shooting after Evans’ layup, helping the Hornets escape with their third win in the past five games.
“We all know we’ve lost a lot of games the last two or three minutes,” Vasquez said. “Now we’ve got to close games. I think every game from now on … is going to be the last three minutes of the game. We’ve got to close it out and win it. That’s how we’re going to build towards the summer.”
The Hornets shot 55.9 percent, outrebounded the Kings 44-37 and held Sacramento to 43.4 percent from the floor.
Former Hornet Marcus Thornton scored a game-high 25 points while Evans finished with 19 points for the Kings.
“This team, New Orleans, is going to play hard all the time,” Sacramento coach Keith Smart said. “They are going to make plays all the time. They just grind it out.”