BC-AP Sports Preview Digest

Some of the sports stories The Associated Press is covering Thursday. A full Sports Digest will be sent at about 3 p.m. EDT:

– Miami, Cleveland and the rest of the NBA all wait for LeBron James, who is set to decide which team he will sign with as a free agent.

-Signing day has arrived in the NBA, if the biggest free agents care to grab their pens. But it’s unclear if Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade – who all might be waiting on LeBron James to go first – are ready. However, Kyle Lowry and Marcin Gortat can sign their new contracts to remain with their teams, and Gordon Hayward and Chandler Parsons can ink the offer sheets that might allow them to join new ones.

– SAO PAULO – Javier Mascherano and Pablo Zabaleta both stayed in the game for Argentina after being knocked down by blows to their heads during their World Cup semifinal. Mascherano looked discombobulated after he clashed heads with Georginio Winjaldum in the first half against the Netherlands. By Karl Ritter. SENT. 200 words.

– PHILADELPHIA – When robots first started playing soccer, it was a challenge for them just to see the ball. And to stay upright. But the machines participating in this month’s international RoboCup tournament are making passes and scoring points. Their ultimate goal? To beat the human World Cup champs within the next 35 years

– RIO DE JANEIRO – Renata de Mouro Moitinho sambas so fast her feet blur, but her partner moves with the bumbling tentativeness of a toddler taking his first steps. And in a way the strapping man in a tight spandex soccer jersey really is taking his first steps – his first samba steps, that is: Moitinho’s dance partner for the evening is an Italian, visiting Brazil for the World Cup, and she is giving him his very first lesson in the nation’s frenetically paced national dance.

– BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – NASCAR President Mike Helton, team owner Richard Childress and Talladega Superspeedway and track chief Grant Lynch pitch the sport and the venue to Birmingham-area businesses. Dwindling crowds have led the famed speedway to drop seating capacity – not counting spectators in the infield – from 140,000 to 78,000.

– SILVIS, Ill. – Jordan Spieth begins his defense of the title that sparked his rise up the PGA rankings as the John Deere Classic gets underway. Then just 19, Spieth holed out from a bunker on No. 18 and prevailed in a playoff last year at TPC Deere Run. He went on to win Rookie of the Year and is currently sixth on the money list

– EDMOND, Okla. – Bernhard Langer is dominating the Champions Tour heading into the U.S. Senior Open in Edmond, Oklahoma. He is the money leader and has three wins, including the most recent event, the Senior Players Championship. Action starts Thursday at Oak Tree National.

-ATHENS, Ga. – For Michael Phelps, there’s one more chance to get ready for the races that really matter. He’ll compete in three events at the University of Georgia in his final tuneup for the national championships in California next month

– NEWTON, Iowa – IndyCar driver Jack Hawksworth suffered a practice crash at Pocono that was so severe he wound up in the hospital with a bruised heart. But Hawksworth has since been cleared to run in Saturday night’s race in Iowa.

– LIVONIA, Mich. – A man charged with punching a soccer referee in the head during an adult-league match makes his initial court appearance since charges were elevated to second-degree murder. The hearing for Baseel Abdul-Amir Saad is to be held in Livonia District Court.

– NEWPORT, R.I. – Defending champion Nicolas Mahut looks to move a step closer to his second straight title on Newport’s grass courts in quarterfinal action at the Hall of Fame Championships.

– MIAMI – Argenis Mendez of the Dominican Republic defends his IBF junior-lightweight title against Rances Barthelemy of Cuba.