It was just a week ago when the Philadelphia Sixers were about to tip off their first playoff series in six years against the Miami Heat.  The excitement level was high around the Delaware Valley, but expectations seem to vary from making a NBA Finals run to getting knocked out in the first-round..

So how far can they go?

19-of the 22 “experts” for ESPN had the Sixers winning this series and Vegas is now on board, putting the Sixers at 7-4 favorites to win the conference.

Four games and one week later the Sixers have a shot to end this series tonight in Philadelphia.

The Sixers are on the brink of a knocking out the Heat, after sweeping two games in Miami, a place they hadn't won since 2014.   Ben Simmons and the return of Joel Embiid have overcome their lack of playoff experience to dominated headlines.

That’s one heck of a week for this franchise, that won just 10 games two seasons ago.

Now, they have a chance to complete their work against the Heat today at 8 p.m. in the Wells Fargo Center.   Here are five things to keep your eye on in this game.

1.  Can Joel Embiid continue to be a force on both sides of the court?

We all know that Joel Embiid can lead the Sixers on the offensive side of the ball on any given night.  However it’s Embiid's impact on defense that really changed this series.   He had five blocks on Saturday afternoon and helped alter various other shots on the interior. He has also helped out on the boards, averaging 9.5 per game in the series.   There have been so many stars in this series for the Sixers, from guys hitting three's in Game 1, to Ben Simmons triple-double in Game 4, but when Embiid returned after a 10 game absence, it changed the whole series.

2.  Who is this series’ MVP?

The race for most valuable player in this series is on.  Embiid would have to get my vote now, even though he has appeared in just two games. Simmons has been next level, just 0.2 assists per game, shy of averaging a triple double in this series.   Both guys make for a nightmare matchup for any team.  J.J. Redick and Marco Belinelli could sneak into the conversation with a big Game 5 tonight, but my vote goes to Embiid for the way he changed the series in Game 3 and Game 4 both offensively and defensively.

3.  Will Brett Brown continue to ride his starters?

One of the surprises in this series has been Brown’s usage of the Sixers bench.   Nobody thought that they would be one of the deeper teams in the playoffs, but that bench has been even shorter than expected.   The one exception is Marco Belinelli, who has seen 30.8 minutes per game in this series.  He is scoring 18 points per game, hitting 11 three-point shots on 27 attempts (40%) in the series    The one other guy Brown has given extended minutes to in their series is Ersan Ilyasova.  Ilyasova is 5-15 in the series from behind the arc, but where he has really been a factor is his 9.0 rebounds per game, in 25.8 minutes per game.

The back-up guard minutes have been sparse, Markelle Fultz looked over his head in his short Game 2 run and hasn't been a factor at all in the series, averaging just 7.7 minutes per game. T.J. McConnell has been limited to just 6.8 minutes per game and Justin Anderson is getting 6.7 minutes per night.

the question is, can the Sixers make a deep playoff run, using just two guys off the bench, or are they going to have to find a third player to contribute some minutes as these playoffs continue.

4.  Can the Sixers stay healthy?

This series isn't over yet, but the Sixers are in firm control with a home game tonight with a chance to close things out.  But the big question tonight is, can the Sixers stay healthy in hat has been a very physical series.  Just eyeball test here – since Joel Embiid's return, the Sixers have completely overwhelmed the Heat in every facet of the game in this series, while the Heat have played hard, they simply aren't talented enough. It’s critical for the Sixers to stay completely healthy if they have any thoughts of making a deep playoff run.  Joel Embiid's eye injury, and J.J. Redick has had some lower back issues entering these playoffs - but for the most part the Sixers have been healthy in a very physical first-round series.

5.  Sixers fan unite!

If you’re at the Wells Fargo center, bring your A game tonight, be loud and proud and help the SIxers end this series in 5 games, and move on in to the second round of the NBA playoffs for the first time since 2012.

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