The stage is set. The Sixers will face the Miami Heat in the first round of the postseason (see series details).
Let’s dive into the regular-season series and see exactly how we got here.
Game 1: Feb. 2, Sixers win, 103-97
It was well into the season before the Sixers and Heat finally met, but this battle was anticipated for a long time.
That’s because Joel Embiid and nemesis Hassan Whiteside engaged in a social media beef after the preseason finale. Both centers lobbed barbs back and forth (see story). Ultimately it calmed down and it was realized that things would play out on the court.
When the Heat came to the Wells Fargo Center that Friday night, the building was already rocking with the Eagles’ Super Bowl appearance just hours away. The Sixers fed off that energy to build a 26-point lead after three quarters. However, they nearly blew it by being outscored 37-17 in the fourth quarter before holding on to claim the victory.
In the end, Embiid had the upper hand in the big man battle (17 points, 11 rebounds to Whiteside’s four points, nine rebounds) and in the win column.
Game 2: Feb. 14, Sixers win, 104-102
The Sixers were on the opposite end of a big deficit in the final game, but they made their comeback stick.
With Embiid sidelined for ankle soreness, Ben Simmons took over in the second half to overcome a 24-point hole. Simmons notched a triple-double with 18 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.
Marco Belinelli also made a strong first impression with 17 points in his Sixers debut as the team won for the fifth straight time.
"I remember yesterday saying the one thing I really love about this group," Belinelli said (see story), "they want to win so bad and that's why I think we won this game. It's not easy. Especially down  against a really good team in Miami, I'm really impressed."
Game 3: Feb. 27, Heat win, 102-101
Don’t wake up Father Prime.
That’s the hard lesson the Sixers learned in a heartbreaking one-point loss. The Sixers held a lead coming down the stretch, but they couldn’t prevent Dwyane Wade from taking over. The veteran two-guard scored a season-high 27 points, including 15 of Miami’s final 17 points. The icing on the cake was a step-back jumper with 5.9 seconds left on the clock.
That was still enough time for the Sixers to work a play and find an open JJ Redick for a three-pointer only for it to clang off the rim.
“You can't ask for a better look,” Redick said (see story). “I don't know if I rushed it or not, but I would have liked to have set my feet a little different. But other than that, can't ask for a better look.”
Game 4: March 8, Heat win, 108-99
Things came full circle as the Embiid-Whiteside feud boiled over on this night.
Whiteside got the better end of the rivalry as he torched the Sixers for 26 points (9 of 12 shooting) and eight rebounds. Meanwhile, Embiid contributed 17 points (5 for 18) and seven boards.
However, the major takeaway in the game came in the third quarter when the two big men got tangled up and were called for double fouls.
“Looking at the replay, it looked like I didn’t touch him,” Embiid said (see story). “Then they called a double foul. [He] tried to hit me in the back, which is kind of dirty because of the fact that I’ve had back problems. So we’re going to see about that. I won’t forget about that.”
And now here we are with perhaps the tighest first-round series in the entire NBA postseason (the four games were decided by an average of 4.5 points). But with the way the Sixers are playing now, and particularly if they can get Embiid back in action sooner rather than later, they would have to be a big-time favorite to advance. Still, they know it won't be easy (see story).
Either way, buckle your seatbelts for playoff basketball in Philadelphia for the first time in six years.