Michael Wallace [ARCHIVE]
ESPN.com
Updated: Jan 9, 2013, 6:22 PM

1. George, Pacers Rounding Into Form

By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- There are still times during games when Paul George has to catch himself, shake out of fan mode on the court and stop marveling at LeBron James.

That time came early for George in the Indiana Pacers' home game Tuesday night against the Miami Heat.

Midway through the first half, James continued his stride on a fast break well after the whistle was blown to stop play following a foul. As James streaked toward the basket, Heat teammate Dwyane Wade tossed a meaningless lob pass just inside the half-court line toward the rim.

James knew the play was dead, but went for the highlight moment anyway. In one motion, he caught the lob in mid-air, turned his back toward the basket and slammed in a vicious, reverse dunk that momentarily wooed the Pacers.

No one in the building seemed more impressed than George, who approached James with an admiring grin.

The awe would quickly vanish.

Paul George
Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty ImagesPaul George made the most of a king-sized matchup.

Then came the envy, which soon seemed to be followed by somewhat of an epiphany.

"They're amazing players -- superstars in this league," George said. "I looked at this as a chance to challenge myself against the guy who is the best in the league. This is a chance to see where I'm at -- to challenge myself and go at LeBron. I knew LeBron was coming at me [so] I was trying to do the same going back at him."

George took advantage of the stage and never let up on his way to outshining James and Wade in the Pacers' 87-77 win in their first meeting since Miami eliminated Indiana in six-games during the second round of last season's playoffs.

With arguably his most complete performance of the season, George had 29 points on 12-of-27 shooting to go with 11 rebounds and two assists in 44 minutes. But his offense was the consolation prize for the Pacers when compared with his defense. George spent most his time assigned to contain James, who had 22 points and 10 rebounds but tied his season high with seven turnovers.

George managed to commit only two fouls in the process, with James attempting just four free throws in 44 minutes.

It was another breakthrough moment for George, the third-year swingman who has taken over the leadership role and filled the primary scoring role as Danny Granger recovers from a knee injury that has sidelined him all season.

The Pacers stopped well short of declaring Tuesday's performance against the struggling Heat as a statement victory. But it did serve as an opportunity to measure their progress in some ways against the defending champions who have won the Eastern Conference the past two seasons.

"It's always a confidence-booster, beating a team as good as Miami," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "What happened last year, this is not a redemption. Beating them in the playoffs would be a redemption. It's just one win. We're happy about it, but nothing more than that."

The Pacers, who have won 11 of their past 14 games, kept the performance against the Heat in perspective. But they also further exposed the two major weaknesses that have plagued their conference nemesis this season.

With George, David West and Roy Hibbert each finishing in double figures in rebounds, the Pacers pounded Miami inside and closed with 55-36 edge on the glass. It was the third time in five games the Heat were outrebounded by at least 17 boards. Tuesday's total included 22 offensive rebounds for Indiana, most by a Heat opponent this season.

"We just didn't allow them to land that big blow that they usually land on teams," West said. "They staggered us a little bit. But I thought we did a good job of staying on our feet and ultimately recovered. You can't overreact to that. But we're a different team than we were in that series."

West insists the Pacers are a more resilient team than the squad that rapidly faltered after pushing out to a 2-1 series lead against the Heat in the playoffs last season. Of course, Indiana must ultimately prove it in May or June.

Miami also continued its inconsistent play on the road, where they fell to 7-7 away from AmericanAirlines Arena, with Indiana being the first stop on a six-game trip that runs through Portland, Sacramento, Utah, Golden State and Los Angeles to face the Lakers over the next week.

"It's frustrating, very frustrating," James said of the Heat, who are 4-4 in their past eight games and hold a half-game lead over New York for the best record in the East. "It's reached the point where we have to figure it out."

While the Heat continue to search, the Pacers are learning more each game about what they have in George, a 6-foot-9 versatile talent who could attain All-Star status next month considering the strides he has made to average career highs in points (16.7), rebounds (7.4) and assists (3.7) this season.

George remains a work in progress. Last season against Miami in the playoffs, he struggled offensively and shot 19-of-52 from the field. Coming into Tuesday's game, George failed to score in double figures in consecutive games.

But then, there are moments like the one he had against Miami.

Coincidentally, James had a lot to do with that development. Much is made of the offseason workouts James has with Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant and Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul. But James also spent time working out and...

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