Heat vs. Pacers preview: Indiana's defense challenges class of the East

Michael Hickey-US PRESSWIRE

The Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers meet for the first time since last season's dramatic NBA playoff battle.

The Indiana Pacers are a team with a future, and their management extending coach Frank Vogel's contract on Monday was evidence of such.

A day later, they'll face a team with a successful past and a stronghold on the present. The Miami Heat visit Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Tuesday night where the defending NBA champions meet arguably the team that gave them the toughest fight of the 2012 postseason -- literally.

The upstart Pacers took LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and company to six games in a series that involved a testy atmosphere. And though the main practitioner of those dustups, Danny Granger, is still sitting out with an injury as the team faces the Heat for the first time since that playoff battle, there's likely to be electricity all the same.

Miami will face the challenge of ending the Pacers' seven-game home winning streak.

The matchup to watch

This time, it'll be Paul George drawing the assignment on James, who averaged 30.5 points over the course of the last six games. After cooling off from a six-game winning streak, the Heat have gone 3-3 in their last six, which included two overtime contests against subpar Dallas and Orlando squads.

George has continued his ascent this year, averaging 16.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game.

Yet it's his absurdly unique defense that will make his matchup with James filled with intrigue. According to Basketball-Reference.com, George is tied for third place in the league with a defensive rating of 97, a estimated measure of points allowed per 100 possessions.

He is atop the list in defensive win shares. Meanwhile, James is second to Kevin Durant in offensive win shares.

Offense vs. defense

Among Indiana's players, George will likely receive the most amount of credit in keeping the Pacers afloat despite Granger's absence.

Quietly, Lance Stephenson has worked his way into an important piece for Vogel's starting unit.

Stephenson is one of the better players in the league with a defensive rating of 101. Point guard George Hill is also at 101 for the Pacers, who as a team have the NBA's best defensive rating of 98.9.

The ever-efficient Miami offense that has depended on James' passing and the addition of a three-point threat in Ray Allen will be challenged. The Heat are second in the league with 39.3 percent three-point shooting, but they face an Indiana team that holds opponents to just 31.2 percent beyond the arc -- that's best in the league.

Time: 7 p.m. ET

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