Lakers guard Kobe Bryant tries to steal the ball away from Miami's… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Reporting from Miami — — The Lakers understand Miami's pain. They felt it a few weeks ago.
The Miami Heat has washed up on the South Beach shores, an icky mess that now gets the same reaction around here as finding a fly in an $18 mojito.
The Heat's morose postgame interviews are "SportsCenter" fodder almost nightly, with perennial All-Stars and their boyish-looking coach appearing gravely ill on daises across the country while trying to explain a five-game losing streak.
What's wrong with the Heat? The Lakers, Miami's opponent Thursday, might have a few answers.
Before Wednesday's practice, Kobe Bryant was asked 12 questions in a row about Miami's plight, and how the Lakers could empathize with the Heat, and how the Lakers managed to pull out of their series of funks this season, and if Miami's talent should really be sagging this badly.
Bryant would know about underachieving teams. Three weeks ago, he was on one.
"It's always tough to go through those kind of streaks, especially when you're under a microscope," he said.
The Lakers (46-19) had a trio of three-game losing streaks this season, testing the faith of followers who grew accustomed to stressing out only in the playoffs.
An eight-game winning streak has restored confidence in a team that looked disheveled going into the All-Star break, a turnaround that had many Miami media members asking the Lakers how they did it.
"We don't really overdramatize the situation," Bryant said. "Just the way Phil [Jackson] coaches, he's not really a rah-rah kind of guy. Neither are we."
Said Jackson: "Guys get down, but they ultimately have some faith in the idea that they do know how to play together when times get tough."
Unlike the Heat, the Lakers have been through championship runs the last two seasons, not to mention a bitter stall-out in the 2008 NBA Finals.
But the Lakers still found self-doubt creeping into their locker room at Staples Center after the Heat pasted them on Christmas Day, 96-80. There was also their well-documented three-game collapse three weeks ago.
"We had our share of losing streaks," Lakers forward Ron Artest said. "We've got a long way to go. It's March."
The Heat will take anyone's advice. Miami fans are willing to read any success stories these days.
"The only thing we can do is keep on grinding and not … let … go … of … the … rope," Coach Erik Spoelstra said after Miami lost Tuesday to Portland, shaking his fist to accent the last handful of words.
There was also the well-publicized Crying Game, in which Spoelstra said players wept in the locker room after blowing a 12-point lead Sunday against Chicago. A new website, didtheheatcrylastnight.com, tried to answer the question of its domain name. (It wouldn't spoil the surprise to say it responded in the affirmative and mocked LeBron James.)
Dwyane Wade saw the good times in Miami by winning a championship in 2006. Now he thinks everybody wants the star-studded Heat to suffer.
"The world is better now that the Heat is losing," he sarcastically told reporters Sunday.
James, after losing to Portland, said Miami had not hit rock bottom: "Crazy thing is we could lose every game and still make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference."
That would make the Heat (43-21) a seventh or eighth seeding in the Eastern Conference. Good luck with that.
But it's not all that bad. Championships often aren't earned overnight.
"It takes a while," Jackson said, bringing up the Lakers teams of Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain that didn't win a championship until 1972, their fourth season together. "I don't expect this Miami team will take that long."