Not even LeBron James and the prolific Miami Heat offense could overcome the stifling defense of the Indiana Pacers when the teams faced each other in early January.
Indiana seeks a third straight regular-season victory over visiting Miami when the Eastern Conference's top defense meets its highest-scoring offense Friday night.
The only time the Heat were held below 84 points all season came in an 87-77 loss the Pacers on Jan. 8 as James tied a season high with seven turnovers - half of his team's total for the contest. He did have 22 points while Dwyane Wade scored 30 and Chris Bosh added 14, but their teammates combined to shoot 4 for 22 from the field.
Miami (29-13) tops the league in field-goal shooting at 48.9 percent, ranks fourth in turnovers with 13.8 per game and averages an East-leading 102.7 points, though it has struggled against the defense-first philosophy of Indiana in recent matchups.
The Pacers, who lead the NBA in field-goal percentage defense (41.9) and the East in scoring defense (89.9), led last season's second-round playoff series with the Heat 2-1 before dropping three straight. They've held Miami under 78 points each of the last three times they've beaten the Heat, including that series.
Paul George had 29 points and 11 rebounds in the last meeting and played a key role in frustrating James for most of the contest.
"It's a chance for me to see where I'm at, going against one of the best, if not, the best in the league," George said after that game. "Another challenge to myself to go at LeBron."
Since George's 2010-11 rookie season, the Pacers are 4-1 against the Heat when holding James to 25 points or fewer and 1-8 when they don't. George, scoring a career-best 17.4 points per game, averaged only 10.0 and shot 36.5 percent in the playoff series versus the Heat.
"He was a good player last year, but we weren't able to see it because he wasn't a featured player," James said in January.
Indiana has won the last two regular-season matchups after dropping nine of 10, but it will have to contend with a Miami team which has won five of six following a 105-85 victory at Brooklyn on Wednesday.
"When we're playing at a high level, that's what we're capable of doing," said James, who had 24 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. "We showed what we're capable of, both defensively and offensively."
Dwyane Wade scored 21 points and shot 9 for 16 after going 6 for 20 with six turnovers in a 100-98 double-overtime loss at Boston on Sunday.
"We just knew we could play better," said Wade, averaging 32.3 points in his last four versus the Pacers, including playoffs. "We want to get better on the road, so I thought we took a step forward."
The Pacers (27-19) lost the final three of their four-game road trip before returning home to beat Detroit 98-79 on Wednesday despite George hitting only 3 of his 11 shots and committing a season worst-tying six turnovers.
"I'm proud of our guys coming back off a trip and taking care of business," coach Frank Vogel said. "We had an edge, which is important when you have a losing streak."
Vogel also lauded the all-around effort of Lance Stephenson, who had 12 points and a season-high 11 rebounds after scoring a season-best 20 points in Monday's loss at Denver.
"He's a big reason for our success this year on both ends of the basketball," Vogel said of Stephenson, who likely will be guarding Wade. "He's an in-your-face defender. When he's at his best, we're awful tough to beat."
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved