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UGa's Murray gets another shot at signature win

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UGa's Murray gets another shot at signature win

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) Aaron Murray manages to stay upbeat, even during the tough times.

If the Georgia quarterback is feeling any pain, he hides it well.

``Fake it until you make it, I guess,'' Murray quipped this week, managing to roust one of those familiar smiles.

While in the midst of what is shaping up to be his best season statistically, the fourth-year junior has endured plenty of setbacks - all of them, it seems, piling on about the same time.

First, there was a four-touchdown loss at South Carolina, which again denied Murray a signature win. Then, he returned to Athens to find the rented home he shares with teammates had been egged and covered in toilet paper, apparently by irate fans. Finally, the worst news of all: His father had been diagnosed with cancer.

``Probably the worst 12 hours of my life,'' Murray tweeted at the time.

He hustled off to Tampa, Fla., to be with his dad, who had surgery and is doing well. Then, after getting stopped for speeding on his way back to Georgia (of course!), it was time for Murray to put all his personal issues aside.

``As the quarterback, I've got to make sure I have a high energy level no matter what is going on in my life,'' he said. ``I've got to make sure I go out there every day in practice and run around, yelling and screaming and having fun. I've got to make sure that my guys see I'm ready to go.''

On Saturday, Murray will get another chance to fill the biggest hole in an otherwise impressive resume when the No. 12 Bulldogs (6-1, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) face third-ranked Florida (7-0, 6-0) in Jacksonville.

Despite his gaudy numbers - which include more than 8,000 yards passing and a school-record 75 touchdowns - Murray has yet to lead Georgia to a victory over a top-10 opponent.

He shrugs off any attempt to make that shortcoming into something personal.

``I don't even think about it really,'' said Murray, who has completed more than 65 percent of his passes this season for 1,914 yards, with 16 touchdowns and just four interceptions. ``It's a team game. I'm not playing Florida or any top team all by myself.''

But offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, a former Georgia quarterback himself, knows how much this game means to Murray.

The stakes couldn't be any higher. Florida can clinch the SEC East with a victory, but the Bulldogs would be in prime position for a second straight trip to the league championship game if they can knock off the Gators.

``There's no doubt that he wants to win a game like this, against a team that's going to help us reach our goal and put us one step closer to hopefully going back to Atlanta,'' Bobo said.

Certainly, Murray wants to avoid a repeat of the South Carolina debacle. In perhaps the worst game of his college career, Murray completed just 11 of 31 passes for 109 yards as the Gamecocks romped to a 35-7 victory.

If Murray can put together a more typical performance against Florida, it might give the Bulldogs a solid chance of pulling off the upset. The Gators have been beating teams with run-dominated offense, stifling defense and remarkable play out of the special teams. Jeff Driskel has done a solid job, but quarterback is the one position where Georgia appears to have a significant advantage.

``He's very quick with his decision making,'' Florida cornerback Jaylen Watkins said. ``You can tell he understands coverages. He can pick you apart - to the field, to the boundary - it doesn't really matter. He can do everything. This week we can't say, `This quarterback can't make this throw, can't make that throw.' He can make everything.''

Murray has faced the Gators twice before. As a redshirt freshman, he was picked off in overtime, leading to Florida's winning field goal. Last season, the Bulldogs rallied from a two-touchdown deficit, scoring twice on fourth-down plays to pull out a 24-20 triumph.

Looking back on what went wrong that dreadful night in South Carolina, Murray believes he set the bar so high, there was no way he could reach it. He was looking for perfection. All he got was misery.

This time, he just needs to trust himself.

``We don't have to be perfect,'' Bobo said. ``We're going to punt. We might get sacked a couple of times. We might throw a bad ball. They might even pick the ball off. But we've just got to keep playing.''

Beyond the impressive stats, Murray has tried to become a more outspoken leader. It's really not in his nature to get in a teammate's face. He prefers to lead by example, to inspire others through hard work on the practice field, through extra hours in the film room.

That's not always enough.

``There's instances where I needed to be more demanding and vocal,'' Murray said. ``That's me maturing this season and understanding my role as one of the leaders of the team. I've got to make sure guys are holding each other accountable and doing the right things at all times.''

Murray bounced back with a vengeance last week at Kentucky, throwing for a career-high 427 yards and four touchdowns, a gutty performance that allowed the Bulldogs escape with a closer-than-expected 29-24 victory and earned the SEC offensive player of the week award.

Impressive, to be sure, but not the sort of win that will solidify Murray's standing as one of the great quarterbacks in Georgia history.

Beating Florida would do just that.

``I believe in Aaron Murray. I think our whole team believes in Aaron Murray,'' Bobo said. ``Aaron Murray has got to believe in himself this week.''

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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Dwight Howard shares his first health update since back surgery

Dwight Howard shares his first health update since back surgery

Three weeks removed from back surgery to take care of his nagging gluteal injury, Dwight Howard rejoined the Washington Wizards for their Tuesday night contest with the Atlanta Hawks inside State Farm Arena. 

"Physically, I'm a lot better than I was before the surgery. The nine games I played, I basically played on one leg. So, you know, I'm just happy that that's out the way and I can rehab and get ready for the second half of the season," Howard told NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller. 

During those nine games, the 33-year-old averaged 12.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, while shooting over 62% from the floor. 

Howard is no stranger to back surgery. In 2012, the then Orlando Magic center underwent a procedure to repair a herniated disk which ended his season and took him out of Summer Olympics (London) participation. 

The veteran now deals with a slow recovery process before returning to basketball activities. 

Right now, the only I can do for rehab is just walk. Anybody who has had back surgery, they understand that. You know, for the first month and a half, you can't lift weights. You can't run. You can't do anything but basically walk. 

Howard plans to remain in Atlanta for rehab. Three weeks ago, Washington said it would re-evaluate Howard after two or three months. 

"Every day I try to sit down, and you know, spend at least an hour visualizing, you know, getting healthy, but also returning to the court."

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Wizards fold late, fall to Trae Young and Hawks in Trevor Ariza's debut

Wizards fold late, fall to Trae Young and Hawks in Trevor Ariza's debut

The Washington Wizards lost to the Atlanta Hawks 118-110 on Tuesday night. Here are five observations from the game...

1. When the Wizards smashed the Lakers on Sunday night and John Wall dropped 40 points, the team's social media naysayers collectively yawned, 'Let's see them do the same against Atlanta on Tuesday.' Sure enough, those people were right.

Wall and the Wizards did not bring anything close to the same energy against Atlanta that they had vs. L.A. Because the Hawks are terrible, the Wizards were able to hang around until the fourth quarter, but Atlanta pulled away with 36 points in the final frame.

There was plenty not to like about this game from the Wizards' side of things. They shot just 33.3 percent from three (13-for-39) and missed 11 of their 36 free throw attempts.

Wall had one of his worst games. He shot just 33.3 percent from the field and went 3-for-11 from three to the tune of 15 points and six assists. He played only 26 minutes due to foul trouble.

It wasn't as lopsided as their worst defeats this season, but this ranks up there with some of the Wizards' most inexcusable losses of the year so far. Even after making trades to shuffle their bench and team chemistry, the results remain the same. They let a bad team sneak up on them once again.

2. Trevor Ariza made his debut and essentially picked up right where he left off in 2014. He ended up with 19 points, eight rebounds, four assists and six steals, making a noticeable impact on both ends of the floor. His six steals tied a career-high.

Ariza went 4-for-11 from three with just about all of them on wide-open looks. Ariza was excellent  in his last tenure in D.C. at drifting away from the defense and making them pay from beyond the arc. Wall and Bradley Beal seemed to remember that, as they consistently found him for outside shots. 

The Wizards' overall defensive effort was up-and-down, as they allowed 35 points in the first quarter and 118 for the game. But Ariza was mostly not to blame, as he played smart and measured defense. With the exception of an early play where Kent Bazemore hit an open three, he did a good job closing out on perimeter shots.

The trade of Kelly Oubre Jr. for Ariza may ultimately prove short-sighted, and many fans seem to strongly disagree with the decision. But those are the things we should see over the course of the season that show why Ariza could be an upgrade in the short-term. He will play solid, structured defense with few mistakes or lapses in focus.

3. The fans who paid the price of admission in Atlanta to watch the referees go to work got their money's worth. It was hard to hear Steve Buckhantz with all the whistles.

Seriously, there were so many fouls. The two teams combined for 61 of them. Four Hawks players had four fouls or more and four Wizards players had five or more. That included Markieff Morris, who fouled out in only 17 minutes.

Even clean plays were fouls, like this one. Jeff Green got way up to deny Alex Len, only to have a foul called.

4. Otto Porter Jr. remains out with a right knee contusion, making this the fourth straight game he has missed. He hasn't missed five consecutive games since his rookie year.

With Porter out, head coach Scott Brooks rolled with Jeff Green to start alongside Ariza. Ariza is slated to be in the lineup moving forward, so that pushed out Satoransky, who had made eight straight starts.

Satoransky ended up playing mostly as a backup shooting guard with Sam Dekker at small forward. Chasson Randle, who was recently brought back on a non-guaranteed contract, backed up Wall at point guard. Though that may have had something to do with his defensive matchup on Trae Young, it was surprising.

Ian Mahinmi also got some burn after three straight DNP-CDs. That may have been due to the presence of Len, who is a lot to handle for small-ball fives.

Speaking of big men, Dwight Howard made an appearance on Tuesday. He didn't play, but sat on the bench with the team for the first time since his back surgery.

5. All of those lineup mentions should highlight one notable exclusion. That is Troy Brown Jr., who continues to be on the outside of the rotation looking in. Even with Porter out and Oubre now gone, Brown isn't in the mix.

Brown's inability to get playing time remains a head-scratcher. Yeah, he can't shoot, but he can do so many other things, things that the Wizards need. Whenever he gets spot minutes, he contributes with his passing, rebounding and defense. 

The fact he isn't playing a lot could be expected, as he was drafted outside the lottery by a deep, veteran team. But to not play at all, even when injuries pave the way? That's tough to understand.

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