HOUSTON (CBS Houston) — You knew when Kyle Lowry returned to practice Thursday for the first time since suffering a serious bacterial infection that the Rockets point guard was close.
Maybe another week or two to rebuild his strength and stamina from the month-long ordeal that had him temporarily hospitalized in New York and he might be able to get on the court to help push his team into the playoffs. How about a matter of days?
Three days after returning to the practice floor, Lowry made his official return to game action during Sunday night’s 104-87 road win over the Sacramento Kings. It was unexpected but also the very lift the Rockets needed to capture their third straight road victory.
Apparently, Lowry had hoped to make his return during Friday night’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers but was held off until Sunday night.
“(It was) awesome,” Lowry said when reporters in Sacramento asked him how it felt to finally be back on the floor. “I’m finding the game offensively, figuring out what spots to be in and what spots to take the right angles. I’m not as fast as I want to be but I’m getting back to it.
“I wouldn’t have believed (he’d be back so soon). Things happened way fast. The training staff did a great job. I committed to trying to get back sooner than later. It wasn’t a break I wanted to take but I definitely feel good … it was definitely an unfortunate situation but I think it helped me in the long run.”
Just a couple weeks ago it looked as though Lowry and Kevin Martin (right shoulder strain) might miss the remainder of the regular season. And that seemed perfectly fine because the team has managed to stay in the playoff race without its two best scorers.
With Goran Dragic, Courtney Lee, Luis Scola stepping up and the addition of Marcus Camby during their absences, the Rockets have remained in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. Their current run, which includes winning seven of the last 10, has them in sixth place and a 1/2 game ahead of the World Champion Dallas Mavericks.
“I’m glad he’s (Lowry) back,” said Lee, who scored 25 points during the win over the Kings. “We were able to pick up some nice wins while he was out. It just shows the depth on this team. Every player on this team can go out there and play and you never know when your number is going to be called.
“With Kyle out, we all had to step up even more so, and now that he’s back hopefully we can make a run. We’ve been moving the ball and playing the right way. Once we get to full speed, I think we can be very dangerous.”
What Lowry showed Sunday night is the immense value he has even when not scoring the ball. His veteran leadership was key in re-igniting the Rockets in the fourth quarter after a lethargic third period that had allowed the Kings to inch closer.
Lowry proved how much of a steadying force he can be how critical his presence will be in reducing Dragic’s minutes from the 40-minutes range to a more manageable 34 minutes.
Dragic, who has elevated his game during Lowry’s 15-game absence, scored 15 points and added 9 assists Sunday night. Lowry contributed seven assists and some great defense against Isaiah Thomas in 18 minutes off the bench.
It could be a while before Lowry is back to where he was prior to the illness after losing 15 pounds and being inactive for weeks, but his presence could be huge as the Rockets attempt to maintain the momentum that has them looking like a lock for the Western Conference playoffs.
“I thought Kyle did a good job,” McHale said of Lowry’s performance Sunday night. “I was pleasantly surprised with his wind. I was really excited that Goran was able to get some rest which is key for us. Moving forward, Goran is going to play long minutes so he needs to get some rest, so I thought that was really, really good.”
What was also good was seeing Dragic and Lowry on the floor together as they had been quite often before the illness. Having two ball handlers on the floor takes the pressure off both point guards and with Dragic coming into his own as a scorer the team doesn’t miss a beat with putting points up with Dragic and Lowry in the lineup at the same time.
This could be key in spelling Courtney Lee some down the stretch if Martin isn’t available soon.
“It was real nice,” McHale said of being able to put Lowry and Dragic on the floor at the same time. “I told Kyle to just come in and do your thing; don’t worry about trying to do too much – just come back and ease back into it. That’s what we’re going to do, we’re going to ease him in. It’s been a long time off. The team’s kind of gathered a rhythm without him so now we’re going to have to get him back in but I think he understands that.”
That seems to give some insight into how McHale may handle using Dragic and Lowry going forward. Dragic has played well enough these last 15 games that he deserves to keep starting and playing big minutes. Lowry, meanwhile, needs to continue getting better and stronger so more of a role of coming off the bench may suite him best for now.
At this point Lowry just seems excited to be a situation that even he thought was doubtful 10 days ago.
“It wasn’t a break I wanted to take but I definitely feel good. I feel like the break helped me a little bit,” said Lowry, who expects to be back out on the floor Monday night when the Rockets visit Portland. “It was definitely an unfortunate situation but I think it helped me in the long run.