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Surging Pacers Catch Attention Of Conference Foes

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This is not a 2014 dream: a scorching February by the Blue-and-Gold has the rest of the Eastern Conference on notice.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

So let me get this straight: they made us endure all that for three whole months? Three months of Inconsistent-Roy Fatigue, a George-Hill injury watch, a David-West injury watch, "Do migraines kill?" wonderings, a Donald-Sloan-named-starter thing, a failed Rodney-Stuckey-at-PG experiment, a George-Hill injury watch again, a C.J. Miles-is-Option-A dalliance, a 76-73 regulation loss/clunkerfest, an 80-71 overtime loss/clunkerfest, a two-month Solo disappearing act, a six-game losing streak, a seven-game losing streak, an eight-game losing streak, a Chris Copeland post-scoring explosion ... and the list goes on and on, people.

Pacer fans endured all that for three months, and after one month of stellar play, they're playing for the seventh spot ... in the playoffs?

It's a Blue-and-Gold miracle and clearly confirms two irrefutable truths: the Eastern Conference is abysmal and the NBA regular season truly is a marathon.

Remember almost two months ago? Right after the Pacers polished off a seven-game losing streak with a loss to the Heat? And as Pacer fans everywhere flocked to mock-draft sites like a pack of shrieking six-year-olds to a Wiggles' concert, what was Frank Vogel's cool-as-the-other-side-of-the-pillow response? "It's a long season."

Oh, the scoffing. Oh, the laughter: "Frank will be Frank, optimistic to the can't-break-80 end," (snorts fan while spewing soft drink all over his newly printed Kristaps Porzingis scouting report).

Well, guess what? He was right. Soooo very right. The NBA season is long; one that can render you hopeless after 40 games and Frank-Vogel optimistic after the next 20. 

Let's take it even a step further. Not only are the Pacers in play for the seventh seed, they're becoming somewhat of a feared commodity among their peers. Wait ... what? Did I really just say "feared?"

Don't take my clueless word for it, take Sean Deveney's of the Sporting News. Actually, don't take his word for it, either, take the words of two Eastern-Conference scouts he interviewed regarding the race for the final two playoff spots in the East:

Scout 1: "If Paul George is even 75 percent, and he comes back and you drop him into that group, they're dangerous. I am maybe more scared of them in the East than anyone outside Atlanta and Cleveland. They have great coaching in Frank Vogel, and their role players are the best in the East. I think they not only make the playoffs but have a real chance to win in the first round." 

Scout 2: "I think Rodney Stuckey has been a guy who has been completely overlooked this year. You can really make a case for him for the Most Improved Player. He had so many holes in his game in Detroit, but he has gone to Indiana and become a pretty solid perimeter guard. He shoots from the outside a lot more than he used to, and look at what he is from the 3-point line (38.1 percent). He was never that kind of player for the Pistons."

The merits (or lack thereof) of the NBA's 82-game schedule has been the subject of much debate as of late among players, franchises, the Commissioner, and fans. Speaking at the Sloan Analytics Conference last week, Shane Battier was the latest of the bunch to politic for a shorter schedule, guesstimating that 60 games is the perfect amount.

But something tells me: if there's one team out there still thankful for the old guard of 82, it's got to be your 2014-2015 Indiana Pacers. For they'll likely need every minute of the marathon schedule to clinch their spot in the postseason. And once there, who knows? Maybe ... just maybe they'll turn those creeping fears into tortured wails. Don't they owe it to the King?