NEW YORK -- The New York Knicks have found little need to miss Jeremy Lin so far this season. But they would miss playing him and his current Houston Rockets team even less.
Lin had a triumphant return to Madison Square Garden on Monday as he teamed with James Harden to lead the Rockets to a 109-96 victory that spoiled the Knicks' undefeated home record.
Houston's second rout of the Knicks this season left the Rockets (12-12) feeling they'd made a step in the right direction and left New York, which played without injured forwards Carmelo Anthony and Rasheed Wallace, humbled by them once more.
"We've played them twice and had two really good games," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "The ball moved well. We just had a little more jump in our step today and ended up playing much better against a good team that didn't have Carmelo, of course. But for us to come in here and get the win is a real good win for our guys."
It was especially nice for Lin, whose career catapulted out of obscurity during his "Linsanity" run with the Knicks last season. After struggling at times to do so this season, Lin meshed well with Harden. Harden had a team-high 28 points and 10 rebounds, while Lin scored 22 points and had eight assists.
"We were just thankful to get the win and it was a lot of fun playing out there," Lin said. "I think we took a step in the right direction and, for me, it was great to be back and playing on that court again."
Chris Copeland, the Knicks' 28-year-old rookie who had played overseas, did his best Lin impression from last year. The little-known forward led New York with 29 points while filling in for Anthony. While Knicks coach Mike Woodson said he was "happy" for Copeland and it was a "bright spot," Copeland said "it's still a loss; at the end of the day, I didn't do enough."
Neither did the Knicks defense, which New York (18-6) had prided itself on for most of this season, especially at the Garden, where it fell to 10-1.
The Knicks were again dominated by the Rockets, who routed them 131-103 in Houston last month.
"It wasn't there tonight," Woodson said of the Knicks defense. "It wasn't there. So we've got to go back to the drawing board."
Up by two after the first quarter, Houston opened a 56-42 lead at the half. Harden and Lin scored 16 points apiece before the break, including a free throw from Lin when former teammate Tyson Chandler was called for a flagrant foul after hitting him in the head when he drove the lane. Both players said they didn't think there was malicious intent, and Lin said Chandler was like a "big brother" to him.
The Rockets ran away with the game midway through the third quarter. Up 60-55 with 6:18 left in the quarter, the Rockets went on a 15-0 run. Harden sank consecutive 3-pointers, Marcus Morris scored five points and Lin added four points and three assists during the stretch.
Houston ended the third quarter up 83-60 and cruised from there.
"We threw our best punch in the third quarter, they took it," said Raymond Felton, the point guard the Knicks signed in the offseason after Houston offered Lin a three-year, $25 million contract. Felton, who finished with 14 points and four assists, added, "They're tough to guard."
NOTES: Lin said before the game the Garden and the Knicks would "have a place in my heart forever." After the game, he acknowledged, though, both sides had moved on and while they would share memories, they "were all in a different place now." He said he had not met with either Anthony or Woodson. ... Woodson said he was not sure whether Anthony, who missed his second straight game with a sprained left ankle, would be able to return Wednesday when the Knicks host the Nets. ... Forward Amar'e Stoudemire (left knee debridement) will practice Wednesday with the Knicks' D-League team, Woodson said, and could practice with the Knicks by Thursday. If he comes out of those sessions without any setbacks, Woodson indicated Stoudemire could return by Friday night. ... Wallace was out again due to a sore left foot. ... Carlos Delfino had 16 points for Houston, including 4 of 7 shooting on 3-pointers. ... Chandler had 18 rebounds for the Knicks, but just eight points. J.R. Smith scored 17 for New York.