Lance Thomas provides ‘juice’ in Pelicans win

LAS VEGAS — Lance Thomas found out he was in a special position at the New Orleans Pelicans’ NBA Summer League mini-camp last week when he was waived, but he’s making the most out of the situation.

After two seasons with the Pelicans and one season playing with the three other Summer League players — guards Austin Rivers and Brian Roberts and forward Darius Miller — on the Pelicans’ 2012-13 team, the 6-8, 225-pound Thomas doesn’t want it to end now. That’s why he put himself in the position of being with the Pelicans as their only former player without a contract.

“Every year since I’ve been in the league, I’ve been playing for a roster spot,” Thomas said. “Just because my contract got waived, I was going to have the same exact approach regardless because I was going to have to make the team with a team option.

“I love playing with these guys; the guys I play with — Brian, Austin, Darius. We worked so hard this summer, and now it is just time to play. You never know how long we’re going to be able to play together, and I want to make it memorable.”

Thomas took a big step toward returning to the Pelicans (2-1 in the Summer League) by igniting the team during its 66-62 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers (2-1) on Monday. He led the Pelicans with 14 points and 10 rebounds, including eight points and four rebounds during the first quarter, which ended with the Pelicans owning a 24-16 lead.

“Lance has actually been with our team longer than anybody here,” Pelicans Summer League coach Bryan Gates said. “We know what he is, and what he’s about. We get back in transition and Lance runs the floor; (he) knocks the ball and it just goes baseline out of bounds (against the Cavs). And those are energy plays. We call them juice plays. Juice plays get us going, and Lance is the king of juice.

“Lance would play this way if it was the NBA Finals, Summer League or in the backyard with his nieces and nephews. That’s what he does. We always say ‘Be who you are.’ Lance is who he is.”

Thomas was glad to see his teammates succeed against the Cavs — not only the three experienced Pelicans but also those who are vying for a roster spot. Miller had 13 points while Rivers and Roberts each scored 11 against the Cavaliers. Rivers tallied four of the Pelicans’ final six points to break a tie at 60.

Of the players who haven’t been with the Pelicans before — 6-7 Jon Brockman with six points and seven rebounds and 7-0 Jeff Withey with five points and three blocked shots — Thomas was impressed.

“It’s definitely fun,” Thomas said.. “We’ve got some exciting guys to play with.

“Jeff had a really good game today. And Brock, he’s definitely helping me on the inside. Me and Brock have been doing real well on the boards.”

“We’re just complementing our guys who can score; Brian, Austin, these guys. I’m just doing my part, making sure I help on defense, rebound, just bring intensity.”