- Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
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ATLANTA -- Los Angeles Lakers head coach Phil Jackson tried to bite his tongue.
When first asked about the Miami Heat's recent struggles, including the revelation by head coach Erik Spoelstra that players were crying in the locker room following their loss to the Chicago Bulls on Sunday, Jackson didn't have much to say.
"It's just drama," Jackson said after the Lakers' shootaround Tuesday morning in Atlanta. Jackson then referred reporters' Miami-related questions to assistant coach Frank Hamblen, because Hamblen was responsible for scouting the Heat for Thursday's game, while Jackson wanted to focus on the Hawks game at hand.
The Heat were brought up again during Jackson's pregame media session Tuesday night, however, and this time the Hall of Fame coach couldn't help himself from tweaking the talented bunch from South Beach.
"This is the NBA: No Boys Allowed," Jackson said. "Big boys don't cry. But, if you're going to do it, do it in the toilet where no one can see."
This came seconds after Jackson tried to deflect the reporter's question by saying, "People cry in locker rooms, yes, [but] I don't want to talk about Miami's situation."
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant was more diplomatic when asked for his opinion of the Heat while appearing on the "Max and Marcellus" show on 710 ESPN in Los Angeles on Monday.
"They have their own issues over there. Every team has issues. At this point of the season, if you don't have issues you're not a team," Bryant said. "Everybody responds to adversity differently. Doesn't make it right, doesn't make it wrong. It's how you come out of it. That's the true mark of a team."
Bryant said he wasn't trying to avoid providing the Heat with bulletin board material in advance of the Lakers' game against the Heat on Thursday.
"I really don't care too much about bulletin board stuff. That means nothing to me," Bryant said.
"I gave you an honest answer. Everybody responds differently. If guys are crying in the locker room, guys are crying in the locker room. That doesn't mean they're chumps. That doesn't mean they're soft. It doesn't mean anything."
This isn't the first time this season Jackson has made critical comments about the Heat to the press.
In late November, after Miami had stumbled out the gates to an 8-6 start, Jackson publicly questioned whether Spoelstra's job was safe.
"The scenario that sits kind of behind the scene, is that eventually these guys that were recruited -- [Chris] Bosh and [LeBron] James -- by Pat Riley and Micky Arison, the owner, are going to come in and say, 'We feel you [Riley] can do a better job coaching the team. We came here on the hopes that this would work,' and whatever, I don't know," Jackson said at the time. "That's kind of my take on it, is that eventually if things don't straighten out here soon, it could be the [Stan] Van Gundy thing all over again."
Jackson later backed off his comment, calling it an "offhand remark" and apologized.
"I'm not throwing any aspersions on Spoelstra," Jackson said. "He's a very fine young coach."
The Lakers play the Heat on Thursday in Miami. The last time the Lakers and Heat met, the teams were headed in opposite directions as Los Angeles was mired in what would turn out to be the second of three losing streaks of three games or more that they've had this season while Miami was in the midst of winning 21 of 22 games from late November through early January.
This time will be the reverse as the Lakers are riding an eight-game win streak that ties for their longest of the season while the Heat have lost five in a row, marking their lowest point of the season.
"It's a perfect setup for them to get back on track," said Bryant to reporters after watching the end of the Miami loss in the trainer's room following the Lakers 101-87 win over the Hawks. "They have no option but to fight and to play their hearts out so this is going to be a big challenge for us. They've lost five games in a row now and they're looking at this game as a game that's going to turn things around for them. So, we got to start getting ready [for Thursday starting] tonight."
Bryant said L.A. would have to find motivation somewhere else than from their 96-80 Christmas Day embarrassment at the hands of the Heat
"It's different now," Bryant said. "If they'd been playing just as well, yeah [we would reflect on that loss], but now you have to draw on something else because their intensity level is going to be much higher because of what's been going on."
Lakers forward Pau Gasol did not offer much sympathy for the scrutiny Miami is facing.
"It's part of [it]. If you want to be a championship-caliber team, when you struggle, they're going to go at you," Gasol said. "You have to be ready for that. You have to work to get better."
Ron Artest isn't feeling bad for the Heat, either.
"They're young and dangerous. Young, dangerous and achievers. I don't know about over- or under-achievers."
Bryant said the Heat are going through adversity for the first time as a group and their inexperience together is showing.
"Them being together is a new thing so they don't really know how each other is going to respond to it," Bryant said. "I've been around Pau for years, I know how he's going to respond to certain situations. Or I know how Ron is going to respond. I know how Lamar [Odom] is going to respond. So we know each other extremely well and we know how to support each other in those situations. Phil doesn't give a [crap], so why should we?"
When Jackson was asked after the game how the Lakers can beat the Heat, the coach said wryly, "Well, you stay cool," before adding that L.A.'s defense would have to work to stop James' and Dwyane Wade's penetration.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.