- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 2, 2016

NEW YORK (AP) - James Harden and the Houston Rockets spent plenty of energy trying to knock off the champs. They had more than enough left a night later.

Harden had 30 points and 15 assists, and Houston routed the New York Knicks 118-99 on Wednesday night.

“We’re a special group and we’re fairly new,” Harden said, “so the more we’re going to continue to build and do things and play the right way no matter who we’re playing, the better off we’ll be.”

The NBA’s leader coming into the day with 11.8 assists per game, Harden toyed with the Knicks defense, setting up teammates for lobs or open 3-pointers as the Rockets easily bounced back from a 128-120 loss in Cleveland on Tuesday.

Eric Gordon added 21 points for Houston, which has won seven straight at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks haven’t defeated the Rockets at home since Jan. 26, 2009, so long ago that their coach was current Houston coach Mike D’Antoni.

Harden also grabbed six rebounds, a night after he had 41 points and 15 assists. And the Rockets got a boost from their bench, particularly Montrezl Harrell, who had 17 points and 10 rebounds.

“Those guys helped us keep going and then James is James,” D’Antoni said. “He’s really good and I think he can play every night.”

Carmelo Anthony scored 21 points for the Knicks, who besides their poor defense also heard loud boos for their rebounding and turnovers in a dismal performance.

“If we don’t start playing defense, we’re going to keep getting smacked like this,” guard Derrick Rose said. “It comes with effort. It comes with everybody being on the same page.”

The Knicks were also playing for the second straight night, but only they appeared to have tired legs. Houston quickly extended a 33-25 lead after one quarter into double digits and was ahead 68-51 at halftime.

Gordon opened the third quarter with a 3-pointer to make it a 20-point game and Harden closed it with another 3 that sent the Rockets to the fourth quarter with a 100-78 lead.

TIP-INS

Rockets: C Nene sat out to rest on the second night of the Rockets‘ back-to-back. … D’Antoni went 121-167 with the Knicks from 2008 until resigning in March 2012.

Knicks: New York has lost 21 of the last 23 meetings with Houston. … Rose and Courtney Lee scored 16 points each.

DEKKER HITS THE DECK

Sam Dekker was headed for what would have been a breakaway basket when he stumbled and fell near the free throw line, the ball bouncing off the court, then off his face and out of bounds. Dekker went to the court again moments later after Kyle O’Quinn blocked his shot.

HORNACEK IN HOUSTON?

Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek, after being fired in Phoenix, interviewed for the Houston job last spring before the Rockets hired D’Antoni. With Harden in place and believing Ryan Anderson would sign there, Hornacek was interested. “Obviously the pieces they’ve added have made them dynamic on the offensive end,” Hornacek said. “They’re going to be hard to stop and so when you look around at jobs and they call you and want to talk, that was great.”

CHICAGO IS HIS KIND OF TOWN

Rose was hoping the World Series went to the Cubs, who had his son, 3-year-old Derrick Jr., throw out a first pitch earlier this season. On Friday, the Chicago native will be hoping to beat the Bulls in his first game against his former team. He expects a mixed reception from fans. “I know I’m going to get some boos here and there but it’s all part of the game, it’s all part of the sport,” he said. “It’s not going to affect the way I play or how badly I want to win that game.”

UP NEXT

Rockets: Visit Atlanta on Saturday to continue five-game trip with visit to former Houston center Dwight Howard. The Hawks have won the last five meetings.

Knicks: Visit Chicago on Friday in first trip back to the United Center for former Bulls All-Stars Rose and Joakim Noah.

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