The very idea that you think it's about the other team and only "die hards" would waste their time watching the Pacers says that you view the Pacers as a poor product not worth watching. Cowherd disagrees (like many of us) and is saying that the PACERS PRODUCT is one of the best in the NBA.
If you think it's worth going to see LAL, MIA, NYK, SAS, NYK or LAC play then you should also want to see IND play...regardless of what city you live in. The fact that the Pacers also happen to be the local team you should root for even when they aren't that good should only bolster the fan interest level to a point above interest in seeing MIA or LAL.
But Indy metro citizens don't view the Pacers as that caliber of a product. That's the problem. It's not a lack of support for the pitiful home team, it's lack of interest in the best basketball you can see within 180+ miles.
The instant IU sniffs top status you have everyone in Indy decked out in red, especially the non-IU grad fan types (this has always been an issue). All the "I don't have an allegiance" fans support IU - because Bobby Knight had a perfect season and won a couple more titles. Their kids and grandkids got raised on that in the way that Notre Dame has tons of non-affiliated local fans too.
The Colts had to beat ND football to death with a rock, with the help of ND being subpar, in order to become the home town football team. But in 1994 if you have the Colts going for a title and ND playing for a title on the same day....ND wins the ratings. And this is still true for IU basketball.
Game 7 Pacers vs SAS for NBA title vs IU in title game...not even close. 80% would watch IU, maybe more.