When the Atlanta Hawks returned to Philips Arena for practice on Wednesday after their disappointing 101-76 Game 5 loss to the Orlando Magic, there as a piece of paper sitting in each of their lockers.
"The Magic are going to win this series and the Birdbrains are going to fold up and collapse like a $5 lawn chair," the words on that piece of paper -- a column by Orlando Sentential scribe Mike Bianchi screamed. "You know it, I know it and deep down in the lonely recesses of their fragile minds, the Birdbrains know it, too."
The "Birdbrains," of course, was a pejorative term used to describe Atlanta's feathered basketball team.
The Hawks will get a chance to prove Bianchi and the other haters wrong when the Magic returns to Philips Arena for Game 6 on Thursday night (7:30 p.m., SportSouth, NBA TV, 97.9 FM).
Atlanta can clinch the series with a win. If not, Game 7 will be in Orlando on Saturday.
While Atlanta is still clearly in the driver's seat in the series, for the first time, there's seemingly a sense of unease amongst the Hawks faithful. That Hawks team that was prone to blowouts. That Hawks team that took stupid shots. That Hawks team that did not work its way through screens, reared its ugly head in that 25-point Game 5 loss.
And as good as Atlanta was in the first five games of the series, they were as terrible as they were in every single one of those 30-plus blowouts at home during the regular season. They were as terrible as they were against the Orlando Magic in the 2010 playoffs. They were as terrible as they were when they were blown out by the Boston Celtics in Boston in Game 7 of the first round four years ago.
Obviously, a lot has happened since then and Atlanta's success on Thursday night will come down to whether this 2011 Hawks team is mature enough to see the mistakes they made in Game 5 and correct them.
History is clearly on the Hawks' side. According to our own Mike Prada at the parent .com, when a team on the verge of clinching a playoff series gets blown out in Game 5, they almost invariably wrap up the series in Game 6.
In fact, the only exception in the last 10 times that a team that was up 3-1 got destroyed in Game 5 and lost Game 6 was in 2006 first round. In that one, the No. 2 seed Phoenix Suns rattled off three consecutive wins to beat the No. 7 seed Los Angeles Lakers in seven games.
History aside, this Game 6 is a dangerous one for the Hawks. They must show up with the right level of intensity and remain committed to playing every possession like it matters. That was obviously lacking in Game 5.
They must realize that if the Magic are not feeding Dwight Howard in the post, they are going to try the pick-and-roll to get open looks around the perimeter. Atlanta's defense is going to have to fight through screens like they did in the first four games of the series. On the other side of the floor, the Hawks are going to have to be active, make sure that their touches are good and that their shots are wise.
Those are things that mature basketball teams do. And many around the league remain convinced that Atlanta is not a "mature" team.
Nevertheless, should the Hawks do the right, sound basketball things, they will make the Magic disappear. If not, as Howard suggests, the Magic could win this series and the haters will have one more piece of evidence that this Hawks team remains a mentally fragile bunch.