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Cowboys RB Murray practicing, but will he play?

Cowboys RB Murray practicing, but will he play?

IRVING, Texas (AP) Dallas running back DeMarco Murray is finally practicing again.

It's unknown if he'll play Sunday night against Philadelphia, and whether his six-game absence is what ails the Cowboys' running game.

Murray was a limited participant in practice Wednesday and Thursday in what coach Jason Garrett said was the most football work the second-year pro has done since spraining his right foot against Baltimore on Oct. 14.

Murray declined interviews after both practices, but did acknowledge a ``good first day'' in a playful exchange with reporters Wednesday.

``If he's ready to go, it will be a boost,'' quarterback Tony Romo said. ``If not, some guys will have to continue to step up.''

The question is whether it's a coincidence the Cowboys have rushed for more than 100 yards just once - and only 101 at that - in six games without Murray, who had a franchise-record 253 yards in his first start as a rookie last season and averaged 5.5 yards per carry.

This year, he had three straight games with a per-carry average under 4 yards before getting 90 and injuring his foot in the first half against the Ravens. He had one 3-yard carry after halftime before going to the sideline for good, and the Cowboys have been on a steady slide to last in the league in rushing ever since.

``I'm hopeful,'' offensive line coach Bill Callahan said. ``When he comes back, we'll see how he feels and see where it all is.''

Felix Jones has seen most of the work in Murray's absence, but he's been slowed by injuries to both knees. While he had 71 yards and another 22 yards receiving with a touchdown in the team's only 100-yard rushing game since Murray's injury, Jones is averaging a career-low 3.6 yards per carry.

There was a chance undrafted rookie Lance Dunbar would start last week against Washington, but Jones managed to stay in the lineup. It didn't matter much after the Cowboys fell behind 28-3 in the first half and had just two rushing attempts in the second half. Jones finished with 14 yards on six carries.

Jones missed practice when Murray returned Wednesday, but he was back on the field as a limited participant Thursday.

``He's done a really good job of fighting through a couple of the injuries,'' Garrett said. ``Knowing the situation at running back with DeMarco being out for a little while, he's just kind of stepped up and gotten himself ready to play in the ballgames.''

The possible return of Murray could also get a boost from a healthier offensive line. Phil Costa, the starting center, remains out with an ankle injury, but Ryan Cook is practicing again after a knee injury forced Mackenzy Bernadeau to slide over from guard the past two games. Left tackle Tyron Smith is closer to a return after spraining an ankle early in the loss to Cleveland on Nov. 18.

``The continuity helps a lot. At the same time, no excuses,'' Bernadeau said. ``We're taught the technique and we take the responsibility of being able to know our jobs and assignments and being able to block consistently and improve. And that's something we haven't done yet.''

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Follow Schuyler Dixon on Twitter athttps://twitter.com/lschuylerd

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Five observations from Wizards' 117-109 win over the Orlando Magic, including Jeff Green's takeover

Five observations from Wizards' 117-109 win over the Orlando Magic, including Jeff Green's takeover

The Washington Wizards beat the Orlando Magic 117-109 on Monday night. Here are five observations from the game...

Two in a row: The Wizards did something on Monday night they had yet to do this season. They won their second game in a row.

Now 4-9 on the season, the Wizards have some work remaining to regain respectability. But there were some encouraging signs. For instance, they won the rebounding margin for just the second time this season. They also made 13 threes.

This win, however, would have been a lot easier if they could lock down the three-point line. The Magic shot 15-for-30 from three. Perimeter defense continues to be a major blindspot for Washington.

Green dominated: Bradley Beal's comparison of Jeff Green to LeBron James all of a sudden doesn't sound so crazy.

Against the Magic, Green wasn't just good, he put the Wizards on his back and took over the game in the fourth quarter with a series of shots and defensive plays to keep Orlando at bay.

Green, who finished with 18 points in just 21 minutes, erupted for 10 points in the fourth quarter. He hit two threes in the frame and went 4-for-5 for the night. One of them bailed out Austin Rivers to beat the shot clock.

Green also had 19 points against the Heat on Friday. The veteran is playing well beyond expectations for the one-year contract he signed this summer. In the Wizards' past several games, he's given them starter production off the bench. 

Though Mike Scott was very good last season, Green is showing how he can do more because of how he can affect games defensively. It's no wonder why head coach Scott Brooks has relied on him in the fourth quarters of the last three games instead of starters.

Beal woke up late: With under five minutes remaining in the third quarter, Beal was ice cold. He had nine points on 3-for-13 shooting from the field and 0-for-6 from three.

But out of a timeout, Beal woke up and, like a button was pushed, took over the game. He began by sinking a tough layup off the glass. Moments later, he got his first three to fall. 

After that, he fed Dwight Howard for an and-1 on a drive set up by a slick behind-the-back move. And seconds later, he stole an errant pass and finished with a rim-bending slam on the other end.

Beal scored seven points in a stretch of about three minutes and almost singlehandedly erased what was a 10-point deficit to take the lead. He did what we saw him do so often last year. Despite struggling for more than half the game, he never wavered and found a way to get the ball in the rim.

Beal made something of his uneven night to post 21 points, eight rebounds and four assists. He proved once again that opposing teams can only keep him in check for so long.

Wall is heating up: Though John Wall has long been criticized for his outside shot, many forget he set a career-high last season by shooting 37.1 percent from three on 4.1 attempts per game. That wasn't bad at all and it looks like Wall may be finding that stroke once again.

After a slow start out of the gate, Wall has been on fire from three recently. He went 2-for-3 against the Magic and is now 16-for-37 in his last seven games. That's good for 43.2 percent.

Wall may never be a lights-out marksman from long range. But he is becoming more than respectable as a perimeter threat.

Mahinmi played again: It appears that Ian Mahinmi has earned his job back. He was benched for three straight games, but has now played in each of the past two. 

Similar to the win over the Heat on Friday, Mahinmi did his part with a minimal, but noticeable impact on the game. He had a nice weakside block in the first quarter. Jarell Martin drove left and got by his man and Mahinmi helped by stepping across the lane to swat it out of bounds.

That's what they need Mahinmi to do, play defense and not get in the way on offense. When he's not affecting games on the defensive end, his other shortcomings become magnified. Through two games, he's done enough to probably stay in the rotation for the time being.

While Mahinmi is back in the rotation, Otto Porter Jr. appears to be in the relative doghouse. This was the third straight game he has sat out the fourth quarter. Markieff Morris was in the same boat for two games, but got the nod against Orlando.

Some of it is simply Brooks rolling with the hot hand. But Brooks must not like something Porter has been doing lately. The best guess is his defense, as Jonathan Simmons, among others, was getting past Porter with regularity in this one.

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Explaining my National League ROY ballot

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Explaining my National League ROY ballot

This was tight. Really tight. A category for the Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. A category for the Nationals’ Juan Soto.

Sorting through 16 categories showed Acuna and Soto should have split the National League Rookie of the Year award. It also showed me a narrow advantage for Soto, which is why I voted him first, Acuna second and Dodgers starter Walker Buehler third. Once the votes from other members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America were added, Acuna won, Soto was second and Buehler was third. It wasn’t close. It should have been.

First, a thought about the general process here: Writers take this seriously. Once assignments for the awards are distributed, we start to talk about them in the Nationals Park press box. Even non-voters hop in on the conversation. Sympathies are relayed to those who have an extremely tight choice, as I did this season and last when I voted for MVP (I’m big in Cincinnati thanks to my Joey Votto selection).

I outline specific categories, talk to opposing players and managers and watch as much as possible in order to come to a conclusion. The only thing easy about voting for ROY this season was the chance to see the leading candidates often since one played here and the other is in the division.

I used 16 categories to largely determine my vote. They were as follows: OPS, OPS+, Baseball Reference WAR, Fangraphs WAR, Baseball Prospectus WARP, OBP, WRC+, SB, HR, late-and-close OPS, 2 outs RISP OPS, BB:K ratio, WPA, “Clutch”, WOBA, and an overall defensive mark.

There’s no perfect formula here. But, when looking through those, Soto took nine, Acuna six and one, Fangraphs WAR, was even. That, coupled with Soto doing this in his age-19 season as the league’s youngest player (Acuna was just 20, so, like everything else the leader’s advantage here is slight), and talking to others in the league, prompted me to vote for Soto.

Again, the gaps were minute. Baseball Reference’s WAR formula favored Acuna. Fangraphs had them even. Baseball Prospectus put Soto clearly ahead. Soto was significantly better in late-and-close situations. Acuna was better with two outs and runners in scoring position.

If Soto had a distinct lead anywhere, it was via command of the strike zone, which is currently his premier talent. His walk and strikeout rates were both superior to Acuna. When asked about Soto, opponents and teammates alike brought it up.

However, Acuna is the better defender and baserunner. Points back to his favor.

Soto was intentionally walked 10 times signifying what opponents thought of dealing with him. Acuna was intentionally walked just twice (though his spot in the order has some influence there).

This ping-ponging of qualifications could go on.

What the National League East has is two of the best players in baseball. Not just young players at this stunningly low age, but two of the best. Soto was fourth in on-base percentage and seventh in OPS in the National League when adjusted to be among the qualified leaders (an explanation from Baseball Reference: In order to rank the player, the necessary number of hitless at bats were added to the player's season total.). Acuna was eighth in slugging under the same adjustment.

The 2019 All-Star Game is in Cleveland. Expect both to be there and this to be just the beginning of them being measured against each other.

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