New York’s superstar PG duo of Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis had plenty of time to bond, critique the Knicks City Kids and watch Nate Robinson deny Yao Ming (above), as the pair were benched for looooong stretches of last night’s 97-90 loss to Houston. Isiah Thomas told Newsday’s Ken Berger “it wasn’t really personal,” which should come as a big relief to all the fans attending MSG because Steph and Stevie are so charming.

“I was just trying to reach and grab for anything that I could to try to stay in the game and try to win the game,” Thomas explained.

But when asked if Marbury and Francis still are his starting backcourt, Thomas said, “Um” before pausing for several seconds and adding, “Yeah.”

Marbury, who had three points and shot 1-for-2 from the field in 19:35, clearly was frustrated in the locker room.

“I don’t understand that,” Marbury said. “We were in the game for like two minutes.”

Actually, it was 65 seconds, and Marbury was in Thomas’ office longer than that after the crowd at his locker dissipated. Thomas walked into the hallway and called, “Steph” just as Marbury was about to leave the building. Marbury turned around and walked in for a closed-door meeting.

Marbury came back into the game with 8:31 left, and Francis replaced him with 5:46 to play, but the two weren’t on the floor together after they were pulled.

“It’s a tough thing to deal with, but it was a decision that was made by the coach and I can’t do anything about it,” Francis said. “I’m never going to try to be a guy to comment on something that the coach did. . . . I’m going to be professional about it.”

The benchings were brought on by consecutive turnovers by Francis and Marbury to start the third quarter. The Knicks trailed 52-45 when Jamal Crawford and Robinson replaced them.

Asked if he feels as if he’s on a short leash, Marbury said, “If I had to go on tonight, I would say yeah.”

For the second straight meeting, Eddy Curry came up smaller than Earl Boykins: eight points, 3-for-10 shooting and two rebounds in 21:05. “I think I did a lot better this time around,” said Curry, who had seven points and shot 2-for-11 the last time he faced Yao.

As the few in attendence continue to make their displeasure known (doing so, it should be noted, not nearly as forcefully as Rangers fans expressed themselves during their club’s lean years), Thomas argues that such protests give solace to the opposition, a stance The Feed’s Josh Alper aptly describes as “Bush-like”. From the NY Post’s Marc Berman.

“You shouldn’t feel so comfortable that you think you can give your best performance in our building,” Thomas said. “We shouldn’t let you feel that comfortable, our fans or our players. Shine in someone else’s arena. Don’t shine in ours.”

So there you have it, folks. Unlike Larry Brown, who rarely missed an opportunity to bury one of his players with the press, the current coach saves his public lectures for the paying customers.

Newsday’s Berger comes up with the quote of the night from Jeff Van Gundy, who along with doing a terrific job as one of the principals behind The Social Registry Label, made the following observation regarding the lumbering wallflower that is Eddy Curry.

“Meanness has little to do with basketball … If you want mean, you can just go to Attica and you’d have a hell of a team. I’m just not sure that’s the No. 1 quality that you need on a team.”