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Atlanta's pro teams have hit a snag
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ATLANTA — Under a brilliant blue sky, a jazz band doled out smooth tunes to a smattering of lunchgoers in Centennial Olympic Park. Nearby, a couple of women kicked off their shoes and frolicked in the five-ringed fountains, taking advantage of the warm spring day.

For Atlanta's sports fans, though, these are hardly sunny times.

The Hawks are on the verge of an improbable collapse in the NBA playoffs. The Braves have lost nine straight games, their worst losing streak since 2006. The Thrashers are already looking ahead to next season with a new coach and general manager, having missed the NHL playoffs for the ninth time in 10 seasons.

Suddenly, Atlanta has morphed back into "Loserville," its infamous moniker from the 1980s.

"I couldn't sleep last night," Hawks center Zaza Pachulia said Thursday, shortly before the Hawks jetted off to Milwaukee hoping to keep their season alive.

He probably wasn't the only one.

The Internet and sports talk shows buzzed with angst less than 24 hours after the Hawks squandered a nine-point lead in the last four minutes, losing 91-87 to undermanned Milwaukee in Game 5 of their opening-round series. The Bucks have won three straight over the favored Hawks, giving them a chance to wrap up the series on their home court Friday night.

"I hope they lose," one supposed Hawks fan called in to a local radio show, explaining that a playoff flop would lead the franchise to make the sort of major changes it needs to become a true championship contender.

The way things are going, the Braves won't have to worry about embarrassing themselves in the postseason. A team that some prognosticators forecast as a dark-horse contender to reach the World Series lost again on Thursday, falling 10-4 at St. Louis to conclude its worst road trip (0-7) in 61 years.

It's only April, of course, but the Braves have given little evidence they'll be back in the playoffs for the first time since 2005. The offense has been dismal, the fielding shaky, the starting pitchers not nearly as dominant as the team was expecting.

As the Hawks staggered out of town, the Braves limped home in last place for a weekend series against the Houston Astros at Turner Field, leaving some fans to fret that the losing will only get worse.

"It can't be great for the sports fans right now in Atlanta," Braves infielder Eric Hinske said. "Any time your teams are losing, you're not going to be not happy as a fan. We just have to look at ourselves in the mirror and start playing better baseball. It's nobody's fault but our own."

The city's outlook was so much different less than two weeks ago.

The Hawks blew out the Bucks in Games 1 and 2, taking advantage of a team that lost two of its best players (Andrew Bogut and Michael Redd) to season-ending injuries. About the same time, the Braves bounced back from a no-hitter by Colorado's Ubaldo Jimenez with two straight wins in their final at-bat, actually pulling into a tie for first in the NL East with two-time defending champion Philadelphia.

They haven't won since.

"It's amazing how the landscape can change so quickly," third baseman Chipper Jones said. "Two weeks ago, everybody was excited about the chances of the Hawks advancing and we were playing well the first couple of games of the season. Everybody was really excited."






The changing fortunes have stirred familiar frustrations in Atlanta, which has always been a bit sensitive about its shabby reputation as a sports city even though its one of the few places to host a Super Bowl, World Series, Final Four and Olympics.

The Braves are the only major Atlanta pro team to win a championship — the 1995 World Series. But they lost the Series four other times during their unprecedented run of playoff appearances, and couldn't even sell out their postseason games in the latter years of the streak.

The 1996 Summer Olympics were a high point in Atlanta's T, but even that came with a caveat: The games were marred by transportation woes and tacky commercialism, prompting then-IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch to skip his usual "best games ever" proclamation at the closing ceremony.

Despite the frustration, things aren't as bad as they were in the late '80s. The Braves and Falcons were perennial last-place finishers, the Hawks never quite made it over the hump as a challenger to Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics, and the city didn't even have a hockey team.

Still, it's a tough time to be a sports fan in Atlanta.

"It was a lousy trip," Braves manager Bobby Cox moaned before heading home. "It's been a horrible experience to endure."