By JOB TENNANT,SportsRadio 610

HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – The Houston Rockets have just completed their best road trip of the season, sweeping two championship contenders (Chicago and the L.A. Lakers), blowing out a bad team (Sacramento) and following that up with a solid effort against a decent team (Portland) on the second night of a back-to-back.  The team seems to be firing on all cylinders and look like they might be a piece or two away from being a real contender in the West.

But the real surprise is that those pieces might already be on the roster.

Kyle Lowry has come back from a bacterial infection that has kept him out since March 10th.  In his last game against Portland, Lowry played 23 minutes, which is encouraging, but is still fewer minutes than he played in any game prior to his infection.  If he can return to his peak form and play at an All-Star level, he would constitute a major addition to this team.

What makes things work so well is coach Kevin McHale’s willingness to play Goran Dragic and Lowry together in the game as a one-two punch (excuse the pun), and their ability to share the ball and make plays without having the ball in their hands.

When Dragic and Lowry are on the floor together, any NBA team would be hard-pressed to produce a backcourt with as much speed, athleticism and determination as the Rockets have.

While the return of Lowry by itself would be an enormous boost, it still might not be enough to allow the Rockets to really challenge the Thunder, Spurs or Lakers in a seven-game series.  However, if Kevin Martin can come off the bench and act like a sixth-man candidate (with his ego in check) by providing instant, efficient offense, the Rockets can almost certainly score with anybody in the NBA.

This part is a little more tricky for several reasons.  The first is that Martin simply has not been that good this season.  He has shown that he still has the ability to blow up and have a good night, but he has also faded from games and completely disappeared too often for Rockets fans too have much confidence in him.  Perhaps his time on the bench has given him an opportunity to reevaluate his priorities and get his mind right so that he can get back to his game.

Even if Martin’s mind is right, his shoulder has kept him on the bench since March 13th.  That is a long time off for a guy who is a rhythm shooter, and there is no telling whether the shoulder injury itself will have some sort of impact on his shooting motion.  All fans can do is hope that he comes back sooner rather than later, and that he’s 100 percent healthy when he does.

Perhaps the hardest part for Martin would be accepting the role of a bench player.  NBA players have egos, and trying to convince someone who has obviously had his ego injured by the attempted trade at the beginning of the year that he is still valued when he comes off the bench may be difficult.

Despite the obstacles, Rockets fans should expect Kyle Lowry to come back as an impact player for the team, and should be hopeful that Martin can make the necessary adjustments to come back and help this team.

If both of those things happen, the Rockets could run out a starting line up of Lowry, Courtney Lee, Chandler Parsons, Luis Scola and Marcus Camby.  They could transition Dragic in early for Lee, followed by Martin coming in for a heat check while Lowry takes a breather.  If the Rockets want to go small, they can put Lee at the 3 at times to make sure that he is getting enough minutes.

This rotation does essentially put Chase Budinger on the bench, but if Martin shows that he can’t hit his shots on a given night, then Bud could fill in as another shooter with more athleticism.


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