NEW YORK >> Just to the left of their bench was a row of fans wearing paper bags over their heads. On the court in front of them, a New York Knicks team filled with unrecognizable faces.
Only thing that mattered to the Houston Rockets is how they looked.
James Harden had 25 points and nine assists in just three quarters and the Rockets beat New York 120-96 on Thursday night to extend the Knicks’ longest single-season losing streak to 14 games.
The Rockets beat New York for the 11th straight time, though everyone is beating the Knicks these days. New York has lost 24 of its last 25 games to fall to an NBA-worst 5-34.
"We’re kind of looking at the bigger picture. Bigger picture is us playing at a high level, all on the same page. No matter what team we’re playing against, we’ve got to play great," Harden said. "So tonight was a challenge for us. The Knicks aren’t doing so well but our mindset was to come in here and play Rockets basketball."
Trevor Ariza added 18 points for the Rockets, who improved to just 4-4 in their last eight. Harden didn’t reach his NBA-leading average of 26.8 points only because he was limited to 31 minutes, sitting out the fourth quarter with Houston already leading by 24.
Rookie Travis Wear scored a season-high 21 points and Langston Galloway had 19 for the Knicks in his second game since being called up from the NBA Development League. Rookie Cleanthony Early added a season-best 16.
The Knicks’ overmatched lineup managed some neat fast breaks and dunks, entertaining a sold-out crowd that featured five fans wearing paper bags sitting right behind one of the baselines, easily noticeable during the nationally televised broadcast.
Dwight Howard said he saw the fans, figuring they were just embarrassed about the game.
"It’s an unfortunate situation, but only thing you can do is remember we’re all blessed to be able to play this sport, blessed to be alive and go from there," Howard said.
The Knicks couldn’t sustain their brief runs. Without the injured Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, and Andrea Bargnani, they sometimes had lineups on the floor more suited to summer league than the NBA.
"It’s tough mentally, but we’ve got to be professional and just keep playing and working hard," veteran Jose Calderon said after a scoreless performance he called one of his worst games in the NBA.
They were close early in the second quarter before Harden scored or assisted on all five of Houston’s baskets during a 13-2 run that pushed it to 43-30. He finished the half with a 3-pointer that made it 56-42.
Howard opened the third quarter with consecutive three-point plays to push the lead to 20, and coach Derek Fisher soon turned to his youth.
"Those guys that started the half gave up 12 points in three minutes. So they didn’t deserve to be still in the game and we went to the younger guys," Fisher said.
Donatas Motiejunas finished with 17 points and Howard had 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Rockets: Houston hasn’t lost to the Knicks since Jan. 26, 2009. … In a strange bit of scheduling, the Rockets return home for one game before coming right back to New York. They host Utah on Saturday, then turn right around to visit Brooklyn on Monday.
Knicks: New York’s longest losing streak ever is 20 games over two seasons. The Knicks lost 12 straight at the end of the 1984-85 season, then dropped the first eight games of the 1985-86 season even after landing Patrick Ewing with the No. 1 pick in the draft.
Howard said he’s known Josh Smith since he was 3 or 4 years old and they played AAU basketball together. But Howard, remembering his own free agency from 2013, didn’t pressure his old friend to join the Rockets after Detroit waived him.
"I know how it feels to have everybody try to call you, make this decision for you, so I just wanted him to make his own decision," Howard said.