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James Harden puts on show as Rockets cruise past Knicks

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The Rockets played the Knicks tonight, need I say more?

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

In the second game of a back-to-back after a win against a LeBron-less Cleveland team, the Houston Rockets were able to push the ball and get into the interior of the New York Knicks defense with relative ease, winning 120-96.

Going into tonight's matchup, James Harden had averaged 35 points on 50 percent shooting from the field in the last three games against New York.

Tonight wasn’t any different.

That being said, New York has had an extremely depleted roster, especially after trading away J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert for essentially just salary cap space for this summer. Additionally, both of the Knicks marquee players, Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, sat out tonight’s game; Stoudemire has missed eight consecutive games with a knee injury, and this was Anthony’s fifth straight absence, also due to a knee injury.

James Harden scored 25 points and dished out 9 assists in a game where the Rockets' ball movement dominated the action. The team as a whole put up 25 assists as Harden, Patrick Beverley and even Donatas Motiejunas were able to penetrate into the lane, suck in the Knicks defense, and pass the ball out to the open man -- who was usually waiting along the three-point line. Houston piled in 16 threes in the game, five more than their season average.

The Knicks were able to hang around in the first half with silly turnovers by the Rockets and with some energized play from rookies Travis Wear and Langston Galloway, the latter of whom was recently signed to a 10-day contract. But after floundering in the first half with only four shot attempts, Dwight Howard went to work in the third quarter, scoring 11 points.

Even though the Rockets blew the Knicks, who now claim 11 straight losses at home, out of their own building, there were still some things the Rockets need to work on if they want to get atop the extremely stacked Western Conference:

Houston struggled to find the bottom of the basket when Harden went to the bench at the end of the first quarter -- shooting 1-8 from the field without him, then going on a 9-0 run when he checked back in. As Reggie Miller wouldn’t stop pointing out, Dwight Howard simply looked uncomfortable with his back to the basket, but hopefully, he’s still getting back in shape after being in and out of the lineup due to a knee injury.

It was very noticeable how much smoother the offense ran when James Harden was on the court versus on the bench. Howard was more comfortable in the pick and roll setting with Harden, while guards like Jason Terry and Patrick Beverley were more than happy to play off the ball.

A win is a win, but beating a team with a 5-34 record doesn't say as much as some of the Rockets upcoming games. They face the Thunder, Warriors (twice), Suns and Mavericks this month alone.

Still, we can enjoy this win as Harden put on a highlight reel of a performance and showed us what a superior floor general he can be. When Howard finally gets going, and Corey Brewer and Josh Smith become comfortable with Coach Kevin McHale's system, the sky is the limit in Houston.