PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia 76ers will have to play their way into the 2024 playoffs after ending the regular season as the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. Despite looking like a juggernaut with Joel Embiid healthy this season, they will host the Miami Heat on Wednesday evening with a playoff bid up for grabs.

The Sixers went 31-8 in games that Embiid played in the 2023-24 campaign, winning their final eight games (that Embiid missed three of) in the hopes of making it to the sixth seed. But because of how tiebreakers broke between them, the Orlando Magic and the Indiana Pacers, Philly had to settle for play-in-game territory.

A myriad of individual things going just a little bit differently could have spared the Sixers from the play-in. Aside from the obvious of Embiid avoiding his meniscus injury (or at least not injuring it as badly), dropping easy games to the Brooklyn Nets and Memphis Grizzlies in March looks even worse now. So too does the referees swallowing their whistle and then promptly admitting to it in a Philly loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

But the seventh seed is where the Sixers ended up. They aren’t focused on what could have been but rather the task ahead of them, as Tobias Harris explained after the regular-season finale, a home win over the Nets.

“This is where we're at as a team. We're confident. We know what's at stake here and we're not looking for any sympathy on how our season has gone,” Harris said.We obviously understand where we're at right now, and all we're looking forward to is our next opponent and being ready to win and go forward into the playoffs.”

Harris said that the 76ers are excited about the challenge of fighting their way into the playoffs. Their opponent is always down for a fight, as they showed when they fell to the eighth seed last postseason and still made it to the NBA Finals.

The Heat and 76ers have been united in fate since they agreed to a trade that sent Jimmy Butler to Miami. Butler and the Heat's playoff success and the Sixers' lack thereof are intertwined and often discussed when Philly has bowed out of the playoffs. Butler and Bam Adebayo make up Miami's identity and the members of their supporting cast have shown a knack for stepping up. Head coach Erik Spoelstra is widely seen as the best in the NBA – and deservedly so.

The Sixers lost to the Heat in the 2022 conference semifinals but now have Kyle Lowry on their side on top of revamped depth. Miami has some new blood, too, but may not have enough to defeat a Philly team firing on all cylinders. Embiid should be good to go against the Heat after resting the final regular-season game out of caution, giving him a little more rest before the main event of the season begins.

Nurse said that the 76ers have had some good battles with the Heat this season. Indeed, all four of their regular-season matchups were decided by single digits. The expectation, Nurse said, is more of that gritty, tough style of basketball.

“[The] mindset is we wanna keep playing well and gotta put everything we can into it,” he said. “It's kind of the way we've been treating the last month of the year. We've been digging in and playing and playing our guys whatever we have to and doing whatever we gotta do to win. We've got a good mindset, I think, and [we'll] just take that into Wednesday.”

Harris agrees.

“It's just gonna be us buying into the game plan and being able to be the more physical team,” he said. “Every time we played them this year, we've understood that. We'll be able to have these two days to really game plan and get ready for that.”

The 76ers having to play an additional game to get into the playoffs is less than ideal. But it’s the path they have in front of them. There are no other options but to forge ahead.