The Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Miami Heat 105-104 in the Play-In Tournament Wednesday, earning the seventh seed in the playoffs. In the comeback victory, 76ers star and reigning MVP Joel Embiid proved he could be a massive problem for the second-seeded New York Knicks in the first round.

Down 12 at the half, Embiid led Philadelphia in a steady and consistent charge, taking the lead late in the game and surviving a last-second Miami rally to hang on by a point. The big man, who recently returned from injury, ended the game with 20 points and 15 rebounds. 

“It means a lot,” Embiid told reporters after the game. “Being down a lot … we stuck together. It shows you that. I don’t play my best, and I don’t get to my spots the whole game until the fourth quarter when we still found a way to win. They like to make it nasty and we can do it, too, and we made it nasty, too.”

While Miami will have to face the Chicago Bulls for the right to the eighth seed, Philadelphia will now prepare for the postseason and a matchup with the Knicks. New York spent most of the regular season vying for the third or fourth seed with the Orlando Magic, but the team flew to No. 2 in the Eastern Conference after the Milwaukee Bucks collapsed in the final 10 games.

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While the Knicks will have to compete without Julius Randle, who suffered a season-ending injury last month, the team is still led by point guard Jalen Brunson, who has stepped into superstardom and scored 28.7 points per game this season. The team has been one of the biggest surprises in the NBA this year, but there are still questions about New York’s ability to handle Embiid.

While the Knicks overperformed in the 2023-24 season, earning 50 wins for the first time in three decades, the 76ers vastly underperformed in a season where they were expected to vie for a championship. 

Coming off a loss to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinal last year, the team spent most of this season treading water. Embiid’s injury in January didn’t help, but his return earlier this month could not have been more timely. Philadelphia won its last eight regular-season games and has yet to lose in April.

In the playoffs, the team’s records no longer matter, and though the Knicks still have home-court advantage, the 76ers are on roughly even terms with the team now that Embiid has returned. The series, which begins this weekend, could come down to New York’s ability to defend the versatile center, something Miami and many other teams have already tried and failed to do.

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