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Winderman: After lockout, preseason games look pretty good

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How much do we miss the game? This much: We’re actually looking forward to the start of the preseason.

Yes, in this space a week ago we said the process is too long, that it shortchanges players who spend the month working without pay (with the NBA calling to remind that 50 percent of revenue generated in the preseason goes to the players, as revenue under the new collective-bargaining agreement).

But after having nothing at this time last year due to the lockout, the gradual roll out of the league allows for plenty of time to sample in between NFL and college-football fare.

So what’s about to commence? Here’s what:

Friday, Celtics vs. Fenerbahce Ulker in Istanbul, Turkey: Kevin Garnett gets an early chance to further complicate international relations. Word is he already has forgotten the phone numbers of all the Fenerbahce players, as well as Ray Allen’s. Fenerbahce says that’s a shame since they’re nice to talk to on the phone.

Saturday, Nuggets vs. Clippers in Las Vegas: Now what possibly could go wrong with sending a pair of NBA teams to Vegas for an exhibition, including one that features JaVale McGee? Think of it as a return to the original “Hangover.” Wondering how many players the Clippers will be able to round up after the fact to take to China and how the Nuggets are going to be able to get that lion out of their hotel suite and back to Mike Tyson’s house.

Sunday: Magic vs. Hornets in Mexico City: And this is an attempt by the NBA to promote the game internationally? Or are they trying to keep the league’s top teams out of harm’s way?

Sunday: Warriors vs. Lakers in Fresno, Calif.: What if Steve Nash’s first pass as a Laker isn’t to Kobe?

Monday, Real Madrid at Toronto: Flash back to 2005 when the Raptors lost to Maccabi Tel Aviv. Another humbling NBA preseason moment on the horizon? It sort of would be like Barca losing at home to Toronto FC.

Oct. 10: Pacers vs. Timberwolves in Fargo, N.D.: They’re playing in the FargoDome. That is all.

No, matter. It’s as close as we’ll come to real hoops until Oct. 30, and the mere fact they’re bouncing balls anywhere puts us ahead of where we stood last year at this time.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at @IraHeatBeat.

76ers tie NBA-record losing streak, dropping heartbreaker to Celtics

Isaiah Thomas, T.J. McConnell

After a rare period of on-court competence, the 76ers led the Celtics by five with two minutes left tonight.

Then, Philadelphia snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

The 76ers yielded a 9-0 run to close an 84-80 setback.

They’re now 0-16. Combined with their 0-10 finish to last season, that’s a 26-game losing streak – tied for longest in NBA history. Last year’s 76ers already shared the record.

Philadelphia is also in danger of the worst start to a season. The 2009-10 New Jersey Nets began 0-18, and last year’s 76ers won only one game sooner.

The 76ers will try to avoid the all-time longest streak at the Rockets on Friday. If that goes unsuccessfully, they’ll try to avoid matching the worst season start at the Grizzlies on Sunday. And if both fail, they could set the worst-start record against the Lakers on Tuesday.

76ers-Lakers – it’s shaping up to be a big one.

Timberwolves read mean tweets about themselves (video)

Flip Saunders, Karl-Anthony Towns, Tyus Jones
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The Timberwolves didn’t select the meanest tweets about these players, but credit Karl-Anthony Towns, Tyus Jones, Shabazz Muhammad and Zach LaVine for being good sports.

LeBron James: I’m healthier than a year ago


LeBron James received an injection in his back before the season.

It’s working.

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

LeBron James now says he feels better than he did even a year ago.

“I feel better in the mornings; I feel better throughout the games; I feel better throughout the day,” James said before a Cavs shootaround Wednesday in preparation for their game against the Toronto Raptors. “It was a rough start to the season for me last year and for our team. Obviously the way we’ve been playing, a lot is predicated on my health and being able to lead these guys out on the floor and not from the sidelines.”

LeBron certainly looks healthier than he did at this point last year. He’s moving much better and giving more effort.

But comparing November to November means very little for the Cavaliers, who hope to play deep into June.

The key question: Did LeBron properly time his injection? There’s a limit on the number he can have in a year, and it takes time to recover after one. Cleveland doesn’t want LeBron to peak to early.

It’s good for the Cavs that LeBron feels better now, but his health in the playoffs remains the priority.

Report: Suns signing Bryce Cotton

Bryce Cotton
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Eric Bledsoe missed the Suns’ loss to the Spurs on Monday with a knee injury.

So, Phoenix is bringing in a reinforcement – Bryce Cotton.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

The Jazz waived Cotton before the season despite Dante Exum‘s injury leaving them with just two other healthy point guards. That says something about Cotton – but also Utah’s depth.

Cotton – who went undrafted out of Providence last year – is quick, varies his speed well and can leap. There’s reason to believe in his potential at age 23. But his 6-foot-1 frame limits him defensively, and he’s not much of a distributor.

Phoenix will rely on Brandon Knight and Ronnie Price at point guard if Bledsoe is unavailable. The Suns can also use fewer two-point guard lineups – giving more minutes at shooting guard to Devin Booker, Archie Goodwin and Sunny Weems.

Cotton provides insurance while Bledsoe is banged-up with what seems to be a minor injury. But he might have to show something to keep drawing an NBA paycheck once Bledsoe gets healthy.