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Coach says Jeremy Lin benched in fourth because of defense

Nov 23, 2012, 7:59 AM EST

Jeremy Lin AP

It was a back-and-forth game in the fourth quarter Wednesday night between the Rockets and Bulls, one that wasn’t decided until a late 10-0 Rockets run.

And Jeremy Lin wasn’t on the court for much of it.

After a regular nearly 9 minute stint to open the second half, Lin came out and barely got back in. While the other Rocket starters returned Lin played just 2:17 in the fourth quarter while veteran guard Toney Douglas got most of the run as the Rockets looked to counter Nate Robinson (who was having one of those “good Nate” nights).

So what gives, interim Rockets coach Kelvin Sampson? It’s about defense, he told NBA.com.

“You have to go with your instincts,” Sampson said. “You’re not always right with that stuff. But I felt like Toney gave us our best chance to win. Yeah, a much better matchup with Nate.”

Lin himself was more direct and honest.

“Yeah, I think that’s for reasons of defense,” Lin said. “I’m not really sure. Ask Coach. But I think it’s a defensive thing. I didn’t do a very good job of making Nate Robinson uncomfortable. I’ve got to do a better job.”

This isn’t the first time — a week ago, when Portland came-from-behind to beat the Rockets it was Damian Lillard scoring 11 points in the fourth quarter and Lin getting shuffled in and out because of defense.

You can overlook a guard’s defensive failings if he is giving you a lot on the other end of the floor (see Steve Nash). But Lin isn’t doing that either, he’s struggled to find his shot this season and is hitting just 28.8 percent of his shots in the Rockets last seven games.

Lin is in a better spot in Houston than New York for this — he is still a young point guard trying to learn how to play the position in the NBA. He’s no longer a kid wonder nobody really knew about, teams have scouted him now and the book on defending him is out. Like an MLB pitcher that mows down hitters his first few games up from the minors, soon hitters adjust to him and then the pitcher must adapt to stay ahead of them — that is where Lin is. He has to grow and adapt. That’s coming in fits and starts. We’ll see if he can do it, but at least his struggles are not splashed every day all over the back page of the New York Post. He gets to figure it out in relative quiet.

But he needs to start figuring it out at both ends or those minutes will eventually start to dry up. Especially the key minutes late in games.

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