RJ Barrett scores 27, Knicks bully small-ball Rockets and pick up win

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NEW YORK — The small-ball Rockets had big problems in New York.

The Knicks bullied them on the backboards and pummeled them in the paint, making an impressive first impression on their new team president.

Rookie guard RJ Barrett tied his season high with 27 points and the Knicks held on for a 125-123 victory on Monday night, snapping Houston’s six-game winning streak.

“Everybody was locked in,” Barrett said.

The Rockets, playing without a traditional center, couldn’t overcome the Knicks’ whopping 65-34 rebounding advantage, or New York’s 64-36 edge in points in the paint.

Julius Randle added 16 points and 16 rebounds for the Knicks, who held on after building a 21-point lead in front of Leon Rose, the longtime player agent who was hired Monday as team president.

“We played to our strengths and advantages, which is obviously the paint,” Randle said.

“We know they play small, so we should get a lot of second-chance opportunities on offensive boards if we miss shots.”

The Knicks ended a nine-game home losing streak against the Rockets with their first victory over them since Jan. 26, 2009 — when Houston coach Mike D’Antoni was on the other sideline.

“Can’t take games like this lightly,” Russell Westbrook said. “It’s the NBA. Everybody goes out and competes. You’ve got to be ready to play.”

James Harden had 35 points and eight assists for the Rockets. Westbrook had 24 points and nine rebounds but missed a pull-up jumper on Houston’s final attempt.

“We weren’t consistent with our defensive principles throughout the course of the game and we paid for it,” Harden said. “Simple.”

Perhaps struggling to summon energy after needing overtime in Boston on Saturday, the Rockets gave up 73 points in the first half with some indifferent defense. On the other end, Harden missed his first eight tries from beyond the arc to help New York build its big lead.

He made his last two of the third quarter and then the Rockets got all the way within one in the final minute of the fourth. But Barrett made a driving layup with 7.6 seconds remaining, and after Westbrook hit two free throws, Randle knocked down one for a two-point lead. Westbrook then got a good look from just beyond the foul line that bounced out.

Harden finished 3 for 13 on 3-pointers and 8 of 22 overall.