Paul George battles Mario Chalmers and LeBron James. (Michael Conroy / AP)

There aren’t many strong teams in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. In fact, the case could be made that there are all of two. So, when they met for the first time this season Tuesday night, it was kind of big deal.

“Everybody was talking,” David West said after he and the Pacers won 90-84 in Indianapolis. “We circle them on our calendar and they circle us. We’ll see them in Miami next week.”

The Pacers are out for home-court advantage in the playoffs. The Heat, well, they’re the two-time champs. “It’s hard to play like there’s no tomorrow when, you know, there is,” Chris Bosh, who had 12 points, said.

That was especially true of LeBron James, who was winded in the second half and scored only seven points, finishing with 17. Paul George came on strong with all 17 of his points in the second half. Although the game felt a lot like Game 8 of the playoff series between the teams, Roy Hibbert, who scored 24 points, downplayed that.

“It’s just one game,” he said. “We’re going to learn from it. It’s a learning experience. It’s still early in the season. We have a lot more work to do.”

The Heat have now lost three of their last five games and look like a team that has played into the summer (and in the Olympics) over the last three seasons. “I thought we brought it tonight,” James said. “We know they’re a very good defensive team. I thought they hit some tough shots and they attacked the rim real well, but even though they had us down by 10 rebounds, I thought we rebounded well and we battled.”

And, while King James went home to Miami and red velvet cake, to the victor went the postgame shootaround with Justin Timberlake.

H/T For the Win