PHILADELPHIA -- Joel Embiid opened his first set of back-to-back games since he was drafted third overall in 2014 on Friday night, against the backdrop of Philly's Super Bowl bash.
And after Philadelphia's game in Indiana on Saturday, he and a few of his teammates are joining Eagles nation in Minneapolis for the Super Bowl.
"I've heard that's the biggest event in American sports," said Embiid, a native of Cameroon.
"I want to feel that experience. I want to mix it up. Go in the suite. Then sit in the stands. I want to feel like a regular person to do that."
All the dunks, blocks and 3-pointers at times seemed like background music at what turned into Philly's largest Super Bowl tailgate party. The Sixers cloaked the Wells Fargo Center in Eagles green -- from the giveaway "Brotherly Love" T-shirts imprinted with the Sixers' and Eagles' logos to the balloons, signage and even the table runners on press row.
The packed house erupted in unison to belt out the "Fly, Eagles, Fly" fight song that's as ubiquitous at Philly sporting events as "Rocky" movie clips. They broke out enough "E-A-G-L-E-S! Eagles!" chants to make the arena sound like Lincoln Financial Field right before kickoff.
The day kicked off at the same arena that hosts Wing Bowl, Philly's own competitive eating competition. Molly Schuyler gnawed her way through a record 501 chicken wings in 30 minutes to win the event for the third time.
The Sixers held on despite the fact that the Heat turned a 28-point hole into a four-point game on Wayne Ellington's 3-pointer with 25 seconds left.
But the biggest win for the Sixers may be that Embiid is set to play games on consecutive nights for the first time.
"I feel like I've been ready," Embiid said. "Now, I'm going to feel like an NBA player. Taking days off in the NBA is not that easy."
Embiid, selected to his first All-Star team, missed his first two seasons with injuries, and the Sixers have been leery of pushing their 7-foot-2 center into major minutes over the past two seasons.
"We're in a rhythm now. It's tough when he comes out and we've got to back into another rhythm," Sixers rookie Ben Simmons said.
The Sixers are eighth in the Eastern Conference standings and clearly need a healthy Embiid down the stretch to crack the postseason for the first time since 2012. Coach Brett Brown said Embiid will play in back-to-backs because he has been cleared to go -- not to avoid the potential lousy optics that might come in two weeks, when Embiid will play in the Rising Stars Challenge, the Skills Challenge and the All-Star Game within 48 hours.
"Joel's availability has got nothing to do with desperation or crunch time. It's all about his health," Brown said.
Fueled by the Super Bowl frenzy, Philadelphia hit 'em low (30 points in the paint), hit 'em high (three 3s) and watched that scoreboard fly all the way to a 51-41 lead at halftime.
Dario Saric made his first five buckets, growled like a dog (Eagles fans have worn dog masks in the playoffs to embrace the team's underdog image) and had 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.