MIAMI – It has come to this: Even Phil Jackson is offering a sympathetic word to the reeling Miami Heat.
The coach of the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers has taken plenty of jabs at the Heat in recent months, over everything from how this roster was put together, Erik Spoelstra's job security, and this week the already-infamous episode dubbed "Crygate."
So on Wednesday, with the Heat in a five-game losing streak, Jackson stood on their home floor and had ample opportunity to poke Miami again.
He went the other way instead.
"From what I've heard, this team feels like they're being looked at to lose, or they've been hoped at to lose," Jackson said before the Lakers practiced for their Thursday game in Miami. "I know locally that can't stand true, but nationally, if that's the case, it's a burden to carry. And then those games that are dramatic become bigger than they really should be."
That certainly seems to be the case around Miami these days.
Not even two weeks ago, the Heat were in a virtual tie with Boston for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Miami hasn't won since, falling to third in the East, 4½ games behind the Celtics and two games behind the Chicago Bulls. Even the No. 3 seed in the East playoffs isn't exactly assured, with Orlando starting play Wednesday three games behind the Heat.
It's a freefall, and the Heat know that when they lose games, most of the NBA is thrilled. So Wednesday's practice wasn't about licking wounds, Spoelstra said. The Heat needed to simply get back to work.
"Less talk, more action," Spoelstra said.
Oh, there was plenty of talking as well.
Miami lost to Portland 105-96 on Tuesday night, after which Wade suggested he'd like to see rotation changes and Bosh insisted he would be demanding the ball more often down low. And on Wednesday, those themes hadn't changed much: Spoelstra took the rare step of immediately watching Tuesday's game in his office afterward, and Bosh was planning to chat with Wade and James.
"We're all in this together, but at the end of the day, we know what people are going to be looking at," Bosh said. "And we know who's going to get the finger pointed at them first. And rightfully so — we asked for this, coming together, and we knew that coming into the situation. We take the responsibility of it. It is what it is, no matter what we say, no matter what we do."
Lakers forward Lamar Odom said the Heat plight is one of the biggest stories in sports right now. Considering who was offering opinions on the Heat a few miles away on Wednesday, he may be right.
Tiger Woods — with his own winless drought to deal with — weighed in on the state of the Heat from nearby Doral, where he'll play in this week's World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship.
"They are trying to jell and obviously they are adding pieces," Woods said. "I mean, as soon as they become more cohesive, they add (Mike) Bibby, so it's going to take a little time. They have 18, 19 games left in the season, somewhere around there. They have plenty of time to turn it around and get rolling for the playoffs."
The Lakers head into Thursday as the league's hottest team, winners of eight straight.
But even the champs have had their issues at times this season, mild ones anyway, with a four-game slide and a pair of three-game losing streaks on their resume.
That last three-game slump ended with the embarrassing pre-All-Star-break loss in Cleveland. The Lakers haven't lost since, with five of their eight victories since the break ended coming by double digits.
"The difference between us is that we all know what our roles are," Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said. "They're still trying to figure that out."
Clearly, that's the case. Bibby was added essentially in place of Carlos Arroyo at point guard. James Jones, Eddie House and Zydrunas Ilgauskas have largely fallen out of the rotation at times, and Miami's bench is struggling — getting outscored 41-8 by the Trail Blazers and a stunning 149-51 in the last four games.
"One thing for sure about this team, we won't go down without a fight," Ilgauskas said. "And we'll keep on fighting."
Even Jackson doesn't doubt that one.
"We always say, the close games that you lose, the ones that are really dramatic like that, they'll make up for somewhere along the line," Jackson said. "Somewhere along the line, they might do that. They might be in the playoffs."
And that was about as close Jackson came to tweaking the Heat all day.