Loserville

Atlanta Braves pitcher Jair Jurrjens

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 suffered through a nine-game losing streak, their worst since 2006, and are last in the NL East. 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.

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 won three straight over the favored Hawks, but lost a chance to wrap up the series Friday night as Atlanta won, 83-69, to force a Game 7.

"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.

That sounds a little harsh, considering the Hawks won 53 games -- their most since 1997 -- and claimed the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. Then again, it's not improbable that next year's squad will look a lot different; all-star guard Joe Johnson and coach Mike Woodson are both in the final year of their contracts.

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.

At least the fans of Atlanta didn't have to suffer through that previous skid -- the Braves still called Boston home back in 1949.

It's still early, of course, but the Braves have given little evidence they'll be back in the playoffs for the first time since 2005, the last chapter in their record-setting run of 14 straight division titles. 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. The Braves did snap their skid Friday with a 4-2 win over Houston, but some fans are fretting 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 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.

"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 it's 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.

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.

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."