George leads offense and defense vs. Heat

Tonight in South Beach, the two best teams in the Eastern Conference meet, as the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat square off for the second time in nine days (7 p.m. ET, ESPN).

The first time around

When these teams met Dec. 10, the Pacers won 90-84, holding LeBron James to 17 points on a season-low 37.5 percent from the field. It was the 196th regular-season game that Miami’s Big Three played together, but it was the first loss in which none of them scored at least 20 points.

The Heat shot 43 percent from the field, their second-worst shooting performance this season, including 4-for-21 from 3-point range.

Roy Hibbert was a key factor on both ends of the court. He totaled 24 points on 10-for-15 shooting, and Miami was 3-for-12 from the field on shots he contested.

Offense vs. Defense

That game aside, the Heat have had one of the league’s best offenses this season, scoring 111 points per 100 possessions, second-best in the NBA behind the Portland Trail Blazers.

NBA Ranks This Season

Miami is the only team hitting more than half of its field goals this season (51 percent), and the Heat have been particularly effective on the run, scoring 1.2 points per transition play, second-most in the league.

The Pacers counter with the NBA’s best defense, allowing a league-low 97 points per 100 possessions and 41 percent field goal shooting.

Indiana’s transition defense has been stellar, as well: 12.4 transition points per game at a rate of 1 point per play, both second-lowest in the league.

George excels on both ends

On the strength of both his offense and defense, Paul George has climbed into the MVP discussion. He ranks seventh in the NBA, scoring 23.8 points per game, up 6.4 points per game from last season.

Paul GeorgeGeorge

His midrange game has provided the bulk of that increase. On two-point shots outside the paint, George has improved his shooting from 36.3 percent last season to 43.8 percent this season.

George may be even more important on the defensive end. Indiana is outscoring opponents by 13.9 points per 100 possessions with George on the court this season.

In the 273 minutes he’s been off the court, the Pacers are much worse, getting outscored by 10.2 points per 100 possessions.

George also ranks first in the league with 1.9 defensive win shares this season, according to Basketball-Reference.com. He led the NBA last season with 6.3 defensive win shares, which estimate the number of wins contributed by a player's defense.

Importance of LeBron

Paul George on Dec. 10

Before and After James’ Third Foul

With LeBron James a game-time decision tonight, George may become even more of an offensive weapon for the Pacers.

When these teams met last week, LeBron James switched off as the primary defender on George after picking up his third foul with 9:18 remaining in the third quarter. With Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen guarding George the rest of the game, he scored 15 points on 4-of-7 shooting, while turning the ball over only once.