(SportsNetwork.com) - The Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat will renew their budding rivalry Tuesday night when the Eastern Conference powerhouses meet at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
These two teams are clearly ahead of all others in the East. The Atlanta Hawks are third in the conference and trail the Heat, who are second, by five games.
This will be the first meeting between the two squads since last season's brutal Eastern Conference Finals. The Heat prevailed in seven games, but the Pacers made them earn every second of that glory.
The Conference Finals aren't on Tuesday, but this game offers varying degrees of importance to the combatants.
"We're trying to earn the one-seed and obviously Miami is capable of going on a 27-game win streak as they proved last year," said Pacers coach Frank Vogel. "We feel like we're one of the best teams in the NBA. The head-to-head matchups are going to be important to earn the one-seed. It does carry a little more weight than most regular season games, so we're approaching it that way."
It's a good approach for the team that hasn't won back-to-back NBA titles. Naturally, the champions don't see the game quite as significantly.
"I don't get too much involved in regular-season matchups, especially early in December," said LeBron James. "They're a great team right now. We're trying to get to our full potential. We'll see what we can do. We look forward to the opportunity to go in there and play on Tuesday, but it's not like it's a statement game for us."
The Pacers return home from an incredibly difficult five-game road trip. They went 3-2 with huge wins over the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs and understandable losses against the Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder.
The game against the Thunder Sunday was a tough one for the Pacers. It was the end of the trip and just one day removed from a 111-100 victory over the Spurs. The Thunder handed the Pacers their worst loss of the season, a 118-94 a setback.
"I think it was their defense that was the difference. They had great energy and they took us out of a lot of our stuff," said Vogel.
OKC led by 21 after three quarters and the Pacers, the league's best defensive team, allowed the Thunder to shoot 61 percent from the field. To coach Vogel's point, the Thunder held the Pacers to 40 percent shooting.
Paul George led the Pacers with 32 points, followed by 12 from Roy Hibbert and 11 from David West. No other Indiana player managed double figures.
The Heat will close out a four-game road trip Tuesday. They lost the opener to the Chicago Bulls, but have won two straight over the Minnesota Timberwolves and Detroit Pistons.
Miami trounced Detroit at The Palace of Auburn Hills Sunday, 110-95. It was sweet revenge for a home loss to the Pistons on Tuesday.
James had 24 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. Ray Allen, who started in place of Dwyane Wade, managed 18 points, while Chris Bosh netted 16. Chris Anderson and Roger Mason, Jr. both had double figures off the bench.
The Pacers took two of three regular-season matchups from Miami last season and both wins were at home. Indiana is 9-0 at home this season and Miami has dropped three in a row at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
12/10 10:42:36 ET