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Missing parts won’t keep Indiana from getting into playoffs


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It will be fascinating to watch if the Indiana Pacers shock everyone but themselves by opening the 2014-15 NBA season with a 6-1 or 7-0 record.

Frank Vogel suddenly will be the second coming of Phil Jackson and reincarnation of Red Auerbach rolled into one. The bandwagon left practically barren by naysayers jumping ship after Lance Stephenson’s exodus and Paul George’s ghastly lower leg injury promises to quickly fill back up.

“This is Indiana’s team,” we’ll scream, starry-eyed over these lunch-pail Pacers defying odds and muzzling the TV and radio goobers predicting a 30-52 (or worse) finish. “Blue collar ... Gold swagger.”

I can see it now: Denim Overalls Night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

At the same time — and in no way am I hoping for this — Indiana barely maintaining a competitive pulse out of the gate would make for an intriguing people study in its own right.

Pacers fans have been categorized as fair-weather. So have Colts, Indiana University, Notre Dame, Purdue and Butler University backers. It’s a criticism that has been voiced about every other professional sports franchise or college program at some point no matter its location or lineage.

So while I would love to insist with complete confidence that fans will stick with the Pacers should they run into a rocky patch lasting 10, 20 or all 82 regular-season games, it likely comes down to this:

How are the guys in the blue horseshoes faring?

The NBA regular-season schedule begins the final week of October. By then the Indianapolis Colts will be halfway through their 16 games, having taken the field favored in no less than six of those eight contests.

Time and time again central Indiana has proved to be either Pacers terrain or Colts terrain. Rarely, if ever, has the rabid following for one translated into a comparable level of fervor for the other at the same time.

Maybe we don’t have enough sports fans. Or maybe we don’t have enough sports fans financially qualified to support both franchises up close and personal, given the cost of tickets, concessions, parking, etc.

I don’t know.

Whatever the case, my prediction is the Pacers grinding out a 43-39 record and No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. They’ll face Cleveland or Chicago in the opening round, battle like the disrespected underdog they’ll no doubt be and find themselves eliminated in six games.

Note to readers: If you’re going to refer to me as a homer, go ahead and get it off your chest now.

Hear me out, though.

Newcomers Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles, though never to be mistaken for George and Stephenson, will nonetheless prove effective. Erratic post Roy Hibbert now gets more touches, which leads to additional confidence, a greater amount of points/rebounds and far fewer critics.

Point guard George Hill demonstrates offensive abilities not yet seen on NBA hardwood because until now they weren’t needed. Don’t forget backup point C.J. Watson and forwards Luis Scola and Solomon Hill.

Then there is the glue — no-nonsense forward David West, who at 34 doesn’t have the time or patience to wrap his muscular arms around a loser.

Vogel and team president Larry Bird talk about the Pacers’ winning culture and how it’s needed now more than ever.

Another couple of months and we’ll get to see it at work.

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