NEW ORLEANS -- Anthony Davis is just 19 years old, with one year of college at Kentucky and an NCAA title under his belt.
But if the first half of Davis' NBA rookie season has been a tedious learning laboratory, then the No. 1 overall pick is starting to offer the New Orleans Hornets an exciting vision of what an athletic performer he can become.
Running baseline to baseline, Davis scored 20 points -- many of them in transition or cleaning up missed shots -- to power the Hornets to a 110-95 victory Sunday over the Sacramento Kings at the New Orleans Arena.
"He's a deer out there," Hornets forward Jason Smith said of Davis, who got the crowd jumping by consistently beating the Kings' defense in transition and making strong moves to the basket. "We're a young team, and we can get out and run.
"Anthony is playing smart. If we're going to attack the rim with Eric Gordon, Austin Rivers and Greivis Vasquez, he's right there at the front of the rim to clean it up if they miss."
Davis' performance was even more impressive considering he tweaked his right knee in a 104-100 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night. He showed no ill effects in his mobility against the Kings.
"The young man has changed drastically," said Sacramento coach Keith Smart, whose team lost for the 13th time in 15 road games. "I think when people were looking at him coming out of college, no one said he was going to be a center. With his game now, he's stretching the floor, making shots and taking those shots when he's open. He's also communicating on his (defensive) coverages. That's a big step for a young guy."
Davis' teammates said coach Monty Williams have stressed with Davis the need for him to play to his strengths. The rookie is faster and longer than most power forwards in the NBA, and Williams wants him to use those gifts.
"I'm just going out there playing and trying to run the floor and outrun my man to get easy points instead of coming down on each possession trying to fight when we can get easy baskets," Davis said. "I'm not trying to hold back. I'm trying to leave it all on the floor. I had to be aggressive. I had to stop settling for jump shots and start attacking the basket. When we do that, we're a hard team to beat."
Davis had a thunderous dunk with 2:54 remaining, highlighting a 22-12 New Orleans run over the final eight minutes. That surge was good enough to hold off the Kings, who enjoyed torrid outside shooting.
Sacramento finished 12-for-19 from 3-point range, including 6-for-7 by John Salmons, who led the Kings with 18 points. Salmons, however, missed all seven of his 2-point attempts.
The Hornets (20-37) snapped a three-game losing streak, while the Kings (19-38) lost for the 14th time in the last 16 games in New Orleans.
The Hornets also got 17 points from Gordon and another 17 from reserve forward Ryan Anderson. Vasquez had 12 points and 13 assists, his 22nd double-double of the season.
The Kings got 16 points each from Jason Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas.
New Orleans used a 12-0 run midway through the third quarter to take its biggest lead of the game to that point, 73-60, but the Kings came storming back by hitting six 3-pointers in the period -- five by Salmons.
When Thomas hit a 3-pointer with 8:03 left, drawing the Kings within 88-83, Sacramento had made eight of nine from long range in the second half, and one-third of its field goals had come from the perimeter.
However, the Hornets ran off the next eight points.
Vasquez said he likes what he sees in Davis' development.
"He's playing with a lot of energy because he's working really hard in practice," Vasquez said. "He's so much better. Some guys are stronger, so he just has to play faster."
NOTES: Because of their transition offense, the Hornets recorded a season-high 62 points in the paint... Gordon had a season-high eight assists. ... Williams praised Jason Smith, who hit two late jumpers that kept the Hornets rolling. "His energy is something we've been riding all year," Williams said. "He was in the paint all night long. He's an X factor for us." ... Two of the three players acquired by the Kings in a Feb. 20 trade with Houston -- guard Toney Douglas and forward Patrick Patterson -- were with the team in New Orleans. Patterson scored two points in two minutes, while Douglas didn't play. Center Cole Aldrich, who had an ankle injury earlier in the season, stayed behind in Sacramento for additional medical tests. ... Smart, who grew up in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, bought 25 tickets for extended family. His career highlight as an Indiana player came when he made the jump shot in the Superdome that won the NCAA title for the Hoosiers in 1987. "Every time I pass by that building, all those memories start flowing again," Smart said. "Sometimes when I'm driving home to go see my mom, I've got to circle around the building, and those memories always come flooding back."