There are two obvious differences between the Wizards' current and previous season: Washington is a playoff team now and wasn't a playoff team then.
All involved want that progress. Now comes the next step: Understanding the team has gone from the hunter to the hunted.
"We've got to flip our thinking," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said on Thursday before the team headed south to face the Orlando Magic. "When you've reached a situation where you are a playoff team, other teams look at you differently. They don't look at you as a struggling team down at the bottom."
Wittman makes the point after Washington lost back-to-back home games against fellow playoff teams in the Chicago Bulls and Charlotte Bobcats. The setbacks combined with the Bobcats extending their winning streak to five dropped the Wizards essentially into seventh place in the Eastern Conference.
Washington and Charlotte have similar 40-38 records, but the Bobcats own the playoff head-to-head tiebreaker.
Following a brutal start to last season, the Wizards never competed for the postseason. Instead, they often set sights on taking down those headed in that positive direction. Washington ended up with at least one win against all but two of 16 playoff teams.
Now the script has flipped with the Wizards teams want to take down. Wittman isn't sure his players are aware of the rewrite.
That leads into the remaining schedule. Three of Washington's final four games are against lottery-bound teams: at Magic, Milwaukee Bucks (Sat), at Boston Celtics (Wed) in the finale. Rounding out the remaining games, the Wizards host the Miami Heat on Monday. It's conceivable the Heat will rest starters by then depending on their specific scenario.
"You're going to get your best shot each and every night from teams because they want to be where you're at," Wittman said. "I don't know if we have that thought process yet where we're surprised by the effort that the other team is going to give us and that can't be."
The coach spent part of Thursday's practice reminding the team of their mindset late last season even with postseason hoops nothing but a dream.
"We weren't playing for anything, but it's the fact that we wanted to get something out of them," guard Bradley Beal said. "We weren't just playing to be playing. I think a lot of the teams we're going to face in these next couple of games are going to do the same thing. They're going to come out and try and play hard, ruin our season so to speak and get our confidence down. We have to be ready to go from the start."
The Wizards trailed by double figures early against the Bulls and Bobcats before eventually losing both. Another slow start could mean another loss against the Magic. Washington needed overtime for a 105-101 victory at Orlando on Mar. 14.
On Wednesday, the Magic triumphed with a 115-111 victory over the Brooklyn Nets, currently fifth in the East. Orlando's Arron Afflalo scored 25 points.
"We need them all," Beal said of the remaining four games. "We got to hope Charlotte loses. We got to focus in. We have a great opportunity to be able to get all of them. They're not going to be easy. We're confident in knowing we're capable of winning these games."