The Hawks have been here before, face-first on the canvas after being knocked out by a NBA heavyweight. So they know how to recover.
But their schedule, and their recent history against the league's elite, is a reality check that could prove disastrous.
In each of their last six matchups against the league's best, the Hawks have been humbled mightily. Cleveland swept them out of the Eastern Conference semifinals last year 4-0, and the preseason finale two weeks ago in Orlando was a lopsided affair from start to finish.
Sunday night's beating at the hands of Los Angeles Lakers is just the latest sucker punch to the psyche these Hawks must overcome.
"I'd like to tell you that we've learned our lesson about getting too high on the hog after a little success," Hawks captain and All-Star Joe Johnson said. "But the proof is going to be in what we do out there (on the court). We haven't handled ourselves very well in this situation before, so it's really up to us to make sure we remember that feeling we had after those games."
That might come in handy in Portland, where the Hawks play next.
"Everybody starts out thinking they're going to run off 10 or 20 straight until they get popped," said Hawks forward Josh Smith. "I was confident last year when we started 6-0. I didn't think we were going to lose. But once you get hit in the mouth you sort of shake the silly grin off and get down to business. We learned that the hard way last year with the way we lost that game in Boston and how we had to fight back after that."
The road doesn't get any easier for the Hawks; they are in the midst of a stretch in which they will play nine of their next 15 games on the road. Twelve of those 15 games will be against teams that made the playoffs last year.
"No one said it was going to be easy," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "It never is. These guys understand that. Nobody is going to give us a thing. That's why you prepare for what's ahead and do what you can to snatch some momentum on the road."
LAKERS 118, HAWKS 110: The Hawks stumbled on the big stage again, this time in Los Angeles as they lost to the defending world champion Lakers.
Whatever swagger the Hawks packed for their trip west disintegrated rapidly during a turnover-induced meltdown in the third quarter that sealed the their fate on this night, one that saw NBA Finals MVP Kobe Bryant smoke them for 41 points.
Hawks captain and All-Star Joe Johnson didn't mince his words in the locker room afterwards, calling his team "soft" and questioning whether or not they are willing to do what it takes to compete against the best.
"I thought we were past this but I was wrong," said Johnson, who torched the Lakers for 18 points in the first nine minutes of the game and finished with a team-high 27. "We still complain too much. To be honest, we just didn't have the effort needed to do this right. If shots aren't falling we stand around. We think offense more than defense. And you're not going to win in this league like that."
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