They're missing two starters. They're playing on the road. Franchise history blows against them like a typhoon. As a general rule, this is just the kind of backdrop that's led the average Hawks fan to take a sledgehammer to their television before tipoff, or at least keep mind-numbing substances somewhere near the remote.
But this time, you might be safe.
"You've seen us all year," Josh Smith said Thursday. "We've been fighting through adversity all season. We're different now."
Watch tonight. The Hawks have a chance to win a playoff series against Miami. They have a chance despite the fact Al Horford (ankle) and Marvin Williams (wrist) may be in street clothes. They have a chance even though history says they haven't won a playoff series in 10 years, nor a best-of-seven series in 39.
They have a chance because, like Smith said, they are different now. They didn't always play great in Games 4 and 5. But they won because of a toughness and resolve that at times has been missing. It's what postseason Basketball is about.
They've grown up.
They've even grown elbows.
"We don't want that rep that we're a soft team, that when teams get rough or physical with us that we're going to run in the other direction," Smith said. "We're not built like that, and we don't believe in going the other way. When the play turned physical in the last game, we returned the favor with hard fouls. We know we have to step it up."
Steve Smith, a link to the Hawks' last playoff winner and now a commentator for NBA TV, has seen the change.
Young players, he said, tend to be hampered in the playoffs "because they haven't played in a lot of big games --- and in the playoffs, every game is a big game. When you're young you don't understand that when you miss an assignment or a free throw, that can decide a game.
"There's more of a been-there, done-that kind of attitude now. They have a mental toughness. They know they have to make the next play, and they don't look for excuses."
This transformation clearly blindsided Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. It's the only explanation for the man popping a spring.
Spoelstra and Dwyane Wade each cast Smith's failed attempt at a showboating, between-the-legs dribble-and-dunk in the final minutes Wednesday as some assault on the Heat's manhood.
"Really trying to embarrass us," Spoelstra said.
"We were very insulted by it," Wade added.
Oh, please. Now the other team needs to grow up.
For somebody to try to embarrass an opponent, they need to be calculating. Smith is anything but calculating. Smith just reacts, sometimes without thinking. That's the problem. That's why Mike Woodson's head hurts.
The real story isn't that Spoelstra or Wade feel disrespected. The story is that reality has hit them over the head.
The Hawks lost Games 2 and 3 but they didn't fizzle. They won in Miami to even the series. They won a physical game back home to push Miami to the ledge.
Suddenly, they're the team that looks in control, while an opponent scrambles for a motivational tool. Suddenly, it's safe to watch.
Atlanta leads series 3-2
Game 1: Hawks 90, Heat 64
Game 2: Heat 108, Hawks 93
Game 3: Heat 107, Hawks 78
Game 4: Hawks 81, Heat 71
Game 5: Hawks 106, Heat 91
Today: at Miami, 8 p.m., ESPN, FSSO
Sunday*: at Atlanta, 1 p.m., ABC