Harden, Rockets overpower Knicks

James Harden scored 26 points in 29 minutes as the host Houston Rockets cruised to a wire-to-wire, 120-96 victory over the league-worst New York Knicks on Friday night.

Houston (52-28) earned its fifth straight win and 19th in 22 games by seizing control early. The Rockets led by double digits for the final 40:04, and by at least 20 points for the final 29:20. They went in front by as many as 42 points.

Harden shot 8 of 21 and hit five of Houston’s 22 3-pointers. He added eight assists and eight rebounds.

Houston’s ability to dominate early helped Harden get somewhat of a breather as opposed to its 114-110 win in New York on Jan. 23 when the NBA’s leading scorer poured in 61 points, matching the record by an opposing player at Madison Square Garden.

Eric Gordon and Kenneth Faried added 13 points apiece while center Clint Capela collected 12 points and 15 rebounds. Chris Paul totaled 11 points and 10 assists in 23 minutes for Houston, which shot 42.6 percent from the floor.

The Rockets hit at least 10 3-pointers for the 54th straight game, one shy of the longest streak in NBA history set last season by Houston.

Mario Hezonja posted a triple-double with 16 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists for the Knicks, who lost to Houston for the 26th time in the past 28 meetings.

The Knicks (15-64) lost for the 16th time in 18 games. They must win their remaining three games to avoid matching the worst record in team history set in 2014-15 under coach Derek Fisher and team president Phil Jackson.

The Knicks played without Dennis Smith Jr. (back), Allonzo Trier (left calf), Emmanuel Mudiay (left shoulder), Kadeem Allen (concussion) and Noah Vonleh (ankle).

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni (stomach flu) missed the game, so the Rockets were led by associate head coach Jeff Bzdelik. It was the first time as an NBA coach D’Antoni ever missed a game.