NEW YORK — Severely depleted by injuries and their latest trade aimed at eventually bolstering free agent-enticing salary cap space, the New York Knicks got career nights off the bench from a trio of their Summer League fill-ins.
But those contributions were well short of what New York needed to compete against a tough Western Conference contender.
Led by 25 points from NBA scoring-leader James Harden, the Houston Rockets (25-11) had seven scorers in double figures, including all five of their starters, and held a huge 87-26 scoring edge on the Knicks’ starters, none of whom scored in double digits.
It all added up to a 120-96 defeat for New York (5-34), which dropped a club-record 14th game in a row while losing for the 24th time in 25 contests, at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.
Providing a small silver lining during what is about to conclude as the worst first-half of a season in the Knicks’ 68-year history, reserves Travis Wear (21 points), Langston Galloway (19 points) and Cleanthony early (16 points) each posted career scoring highs to lead a New York squad that looked nothing like the one that broke preseason training camp less than three months ago.
Galloway, a recent call-up on a 10-day contract from the NBA Developmental League’s Westchester Knicks, who played in his first NBA game on the road a night earlier,scored the most points by a rookie in a Garden debut since Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing netted 18 points on October 26, 1985.
“I was just glad to get another opportunity and that coach called my number,” Galloway said. “Just take advantage of my opportunity and have fun.”
Badly outmanned, without franchise star Carmelo Anthony (for a fourth straight game) and other regulars, New York fell to 0-8 this season sans their best player.
Still, the Knicks who were left showed some fight in charging back from an early 10-point hole, to get within two points, until the Rockets took control down the stretch of the second quarter.
Despite taking 12 of the game’s first 16 shots, New York trailed, 10-9, in the midst of a 20-7 Houston run which erased a 5-2 Knicks lead and put the Rockets up, 22-12, by the midpoint of the opening quarter.
Up 27-17, Houston had one more field goal than New York (8-7) while taking half as many shots (11) as the Knicks (22). But an off-balance bank shot off of one foot, by Wear, beat the shot clock buzzer before Galloway jammed home a putback off of a missed 3-pointer by reserve point guard Shane Larkin (three points), to get New York to within 27-22 by the end of the period.
Houston’s lead was cut to just 30-28 after a jumper by Wear and layups by Early and Galloway extended a Knicks’ run to 11-2, spanning the first two quarters.
Scoring 11 points in 11 first-half minutes, Wear had already matched the career scoring high he set the night before, during New York’s franchise record-setting 13th consecutive loss.
Seven points and two nice assists by Harden highlighted a 13-2 spurt that put the Rockets up, 43-30.
After a 3-pointer by 2004 Knick second-round draft pick Trevor Ariza (18 points) gave the Rockets their largest lead of the half, at 53-39, Harden, who led all scorers with 17 first-half points — as many as the Knicks’ starters — matched that margin and gave Houston a 56-42 halftime lead when he luckily banked in a straight-away 3-pointer just before the break.
Consecutive 3-point plays by center Dwight Howard (13 points, 10 rebounds) started the third quarter as the Rockets’ big man scored Houston’s first eight points of the period to spark an 18-8 stretch that swelled the lead to 74-50 just over five minutes into the quarter.
The margin grew to 83-56 on a 3-pointer by guard Patrick Beverley (14 points) almost two minutes later, as the Rockets coasted to a 93-69 lead heading into the final stanza.
Starting the fourth quarter on a 10-2 run, New York cut its deficit to 95-79, but Houston’s bench (primarily) put the game away with a 13-6 answer that ballooned the lead to 108-85, with 6:37 left.
A 3-pointer by reserve guard Isaiah Caanan (for his only points) moved the lead to as much as 120-92.
Pleased with the heart his young and largely inexperienced group of players showed, head coach Derek Fisher defended the limited number of veterans he had at his disposal.
“I thought our young guys played hard,” he said, while adding, “I see frustration, I see disappointment. None of us enjoy losing at all. I don’t think that means our veteran guys [who played] aren’t trying or not being leaders.”
Although the game marked the Knicks’ 178th consecutive sellout, there were many empty seats throughout the game, especially during the final quarter. A group of five fans from nearby Rockland County sat in the front row, along the baseline, near the Rockets’ bench, with paper bags over their heads.
Hoping to finally put an end to its worst losing streak of all-time, New York will next host the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday afternoon. The Hornets are one of the few teams the Knicks were able to beat this season. That victory moved New York to 2-1, the only time the Knicks have been over .500 all season. New York has gone a miserable 3-33 since then.
Charlotte is just 14-24, but has climbed to within two games of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and after winning at Atlantic Division-leading Toronto while the Rockets were beating the Knicks, the Hornets will come to MSG on a season high-tying four-game winning streak.