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Rookie Cam Thomas gets his shot as stars rested in preseason opener

Nets guard Cam Thomas shoots as Lakers guard

Nets guard Cam Thomas shoots as Lakers guard Wayne Ellington defends during the first half Sunday in Los Angeles. Credit: AP / Mark J. Terrill

Nearly all the big names on the Nets and Lakers, the two teams favored to meet for the NBA title next June, were in street clothes on the bench for their preseason opener Sunday afternoon at Staples Center in Los Angeles. So maybe it should have come as no surprise that Nets rookie Cam Thomas, who led the Las Vegas Summer League in scoring, put on an impressive show with 21 points in the Nets’ 123-97 victory.

Thomas made 7 of 14 shots and was a team-high plus-17 in 22 minutes on the floor. Two other rookies, Day’Ron Sharpe (13 points, 6 rebounds) and David Duke Jr. (13 points, 7 rebounds) had nice outings, and veteran forward Paul Millsap added 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Nets coach Steve Nash rested vets Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Joe Harris, Blake Griffin, Patty Mills and James Johnson. Lakers stars LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Trevor Ariza also sat, and Anthony Davis played 11 minutes and scored six points. So the star power was reserved for their Christmas Day matchup at Staples Center.

The Nets only led by three, after three periods, but they opened the fourth quarter with a 28-2 run and forced the Lakers to miss their first 14 shots in the period. "Cam can score," Nash said of the rookie chosen by the Nets with the No. 27 overall pick. "He’s a guy that can get to his shot and make shots. He made some tonight."

Despite his prolific scoring ability, Nash indicated it will be a challenge for Thomas to make the regular playing rotation on a title contender loaded with so many experienced veterans.

"We’ll see about the rotation," Nash said. "We’ve got a lot of veteran guys on this team, we’ve got a lot of scoring punch on this team. That’s a tough task for a young player, but we love him. We know Cam’s a shotmaker.

"There are other things we’ve got to continue to work with so that he understands how to play both sides of the ball, not just as a scorer but as a defender and as someone that creates offense for his teammates with his movement off the ball or his decision-making."

Thomas expressed confidence in his ability to pick up the Nets defensive system, saying, "I feel I haven’t struggled on defense. This is my first time in an NBA system, so you’re learning on the fly. I’m a rookie playing with all vets. They already know the tricks, all the different terminology. I’m learning as I go."

Confidence at the offensive end isn’t a problem at all for Thomas. "Scoring is scoring," Thomas said. "I don’t know why people always think stuff can’t translate. If you can score, you can score. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing against."

Notes and quotes: The Nets are off Monday but return to practice Tuesday at Barclays Center. Irving did not take part in media day there presumably because he’s not allowed inside under the New York City vaccine mandate. Asked if he expects Irving at practice, Nash said, "I don’t have an update on that, so I don’t really know."

New York Sports