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Spurs braced for first meeting with NBA phenom Zion Williamson

Silver and Black continue preseason schedule Sunday at home against the New Orleans Pelicans.


Oct. 5: Orlando Magic 125, Spurs 89, AT&T Center

Tuesday: Miami Heat 107, Spurs 89, Miami

Sunday: vs. New Orleans, 3 p.m., AT&T Center

Wednesday: at Houston, 7 p.m.

Friday: vs. Memphis, 7:30 p.m., AT&T Center

It's still the preseason but the Spurs' game against the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday won't be just another run-of-the-mill exhibition contest.

Star forward Zion Williamson, selected No. 1 overall by New Orleans in this summer's NBA Draft, will come calling on the Silver and Black at the AT&T Center for the first time.

"I want to see him in person, see how he plays," veteran Spurs forward Rudy Gay said Saturday after practice. "That's the thing about him. He gets so much hype sometimes, you just want to see it for yourself."

With San Antonio and New Orleans both in the NBA's Southwest Division, the Spurs will see Williamson four times during the regular season. They play each other Jan. 22 and March 18 in New Orleans, and April 5 and April 15 in San Antonio.

Touted to be the league's next superstar, Williams was described as a "force" with no comparison by teammate Josh Hart after an outstanding performance in the Pelicans' 128-127 win over the Utah Jazz on Friday night.

Williamson hit 9 of 12 field-goal attempts and scored a game-high 26 points in only 23 minutes. That followed a 29-point game in a 129-127 victory against the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday night, when he nailed 12 of 13 shots in just 27 minutes.

"I've seen the highlights like everybody else," Spurs guard Derrick White said. "He's having a pretty good start to the preseason, so see what it is up close and personal. Looking forward to it."

Only 19, Williamson is expected to help promote the NBA brand for years to come as the leader of the league's next generation of star players.

"It's a lot of pressure, but it looks like he can fight through it and hopefully be great in this league," Gay said.

Williamson's meteoric rise ⁠— he played only one season at Duke before turning pro ⁠— has made him a basketball icon before he's played in an NBA regular-season game. 

“I’m always about new guys coming out and being great,” Gay said.

Williamson, 6-foot-7 and 285 pounds, has been dominant in helping New Orleans go 3-0 in the preseason. Averaging 23.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.3 steals, he's picked up where he left off in college.

Williamson's combination of size, strength, speed, quickness and high basketball IQ are going to make him a matchup nightmare for every team in the NBA.

"He’s an exciting player to watch," said Gay, who is preparing for his 14th NBA season. “Even since high school, we'd watch clips of him going out there and doing crazy things. I think he’s great for our league.”

Credit: AP
New Orleans Pelicans rookie forward Zion Williams, the No. 1 overall pick in this summer's NBA Draft, has averaged 23.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.3 steals in three preseason games.

Last season's consensus college player of the year, Williams averaged 22.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.1 steals, 1.8 blocks and 30 minutes in his 33-game career at Duke. He also made 68 percent of his shots.

While Williamson plays in his first game in San Antonio, the Spurs will continue to keep trying to find their groove after losing their first two preseason games by 36 and 18 points.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich called out his players after their 107-89 loss to the Heat in Miami on Tuesday night.

My assessment after two games so far is that our competitive nature is lacking," Popovich said. "Some would interpret that as ‘soft’ and that’s how we are playing. I don’t see the competitiveness necessary to compete in the NBA. I don’t see the ‘give a [expletive]’ factor the way it needs to be. I’m OK with turnovers to a point, missed shots and all that, so that doesn’t matter.

"But the competitiveness and aggressiveness shows. The ‘give a [expletive]’ factor shows in transition defense when standing in front of somebody on defense or rebounding is not there. Really poor. That needs to change or it will be a long [expletive] year. Quote me on that.”

Gay has played for Popovich long enough to put Popovich's rants in perspective.

"He's Pop," Gay said, smiling. "He expects the most out of you, and that's what you want from your coach."

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