Sometimes you look your opponent in the eyes and know, whole-heartedly, without a shred of a doubt, that you are better than him.
You accept the challenge he presents, revel in the opportunity to prove your mettle and emerge unscathed.
But other times, you look into your opponent's eyes and see a reflection of your own struggle -- the recognition that although the paths you've traveled may be different, your battles are similar.
That reflection is what the Sixers saw in tonight's 90-87 loss in Washington.
In many ways the basement-dwelling Washington Wizards are a mirror image of this struggling Sixers squad.
There's the obvious -- their franchise players, chosen first and second overall in the 2010 draft (John Wall and Evan Turner) and both phenomenally-successful at the collegiate level, haven't quite garnered the same praise at the professional level.
Both are perfectionists, prone to immersing themselves so deeply into the game on the court that they often are misunderstood as hot-headed and emotional players.
As draft headliners, the two were expected to carry the weight of their respective franchises -- to incite that immediate spark and buoy two programs on the brink of irrelevance.
But, as the Wizards and Sixers have learned through Wall and Turner's trials, that's a mighty weight to bear.
There's also the emergence of the team's rookie.
For Washington, Bradley Beal is a bright spot.
The rookie shooting guard is averaging 20.6 points and 8.0 rebounds per game in the Wizards' last five games. His stellar performance in the months of December and January earned him Rookie of the Month accolades.
Or, in the Sixers' case -- the gradual appearance of the team's rookie.
Arnett Moultrie graduated from his Sioux Falls SkyForce assignment in December to a spot on the Sixers' bench on January 6. Since then, Moultrie has been trusted with an average of seven minutes per game off the bench.
Speaking of Beal, there's the familiar gut-wrenching dread of the injury bug consuming one of your hottest players. Beal went down with what appeared to be a nasty ankle sprain after landing on Nene's foot in the closing minutes of the final quarter. As he was carried off the court, the flashbacks to Jrue Holiday's sprained ankle in December were immediate.
There's also the hushed sense of disappointment -- the latent ire of being forced to watch the postseason from a distance.
The Wizards, rooted firmly in 13th place in the Eastern Conference, have already accepted their fate. The Sixers continue on through the tunnel of darkness in March hoping that the light at the end that signifies a playoff berth remains illuminated, however dim.
The two teams share the same frustrating acknowledgment that this year, once full of hope, is no longer the season they had hoped and expected and wished it would be.
And tonight, in a game decided in the final seconds of regulation by just three points, the Sixers saw across the court a mirror image of themselves and their roller-coaster season.