LeBron's greatest rival? Not so much

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MIAMI -- LeBron James' recall and mental cataloging are as honed as his midrange jumper, so it's rare that he's taken aback when presented with a factoid about his career.

But James' eyebrows shot up when he was told that Paul George is now second only to longtime rival Paul Pierce in the number of postseason games facing James. The Indiana Pacers' George has played 16 playoff games against James and the Miami Heat, defending him nearly every minute over the past three years, with more on the way.

"That's surprising," James said.

It's surprising because this budding rivalry has not matured in this year's Eastern Conference finals. Actually, James has been more focused on Lance Stephenson than George, exchanging trash talk and churning up some old bad blood between him and the feisty guard.

It's as if George has taken a backseat, which is a reason the Pacers are behind 2-1 in the series going into Game 4. Without George acting as a legitimate foil to James, Indiana's hopes in this series are dimmed just as James' awareness of him is.

In last year's conference finals, James and George staged a fantastic duel over seven games that appeared to be the start of something special. James was on George down the stretch of every game, and George exhausted himself working on James throughout.

In Game 1, for example, George nailed a 30-foot 3-pointer over James with less than a second left in the fourth quarter to force overtime. Then James shook George and won the game with a layup at the overtime buzzer.

In Game 2, George scored 22 points and helped force James into two late-game turnovers that allowed the Pacers to even the series.

In a crucial Game 5, George delivered 27 points, 11 rebounds and five assists against James' 30 points, eight rebounds and six assists.

In Game 6, George carried his team to a win with 28 points, eight rebounds and five assists to edge James' 29 points, seven rebounds and six assists.

These were big-time showdowns, some of the best of James' playoff career. They kept coming with George answering James' brute strength with some graceful moves and a few athletic dunks that were among the glossiest highlights of the 2013 postseason.

Ultimately, James was better. So were the Heat, as they advanced in seven games, partially because George ran out of gas in the final game as James thoroughly outplayed him. But it was beyond a respectable showing, and George had youth on his side and a growing body of experience. It was a major reason the Pacers signed him to a five-year, $90 million contract extension after the season.

So far in this series, there's been none of that performance. George has been blanketing James and has forced some turnovers, but generally James has gotten what he's wanted. It hasn't played out that way at the other end, where the Heat are frequently comfortable putting Ray Allen on George in fourth quarters. George is just 9-of-29 shooting over the past two games and has done very little that is meaningful or memorable. James has noticed.

"If I don't follow my keys, he'll score on me," James said. "I can't take a possession off against him, you can't have lapse."

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