The Cleveland Cavaliers have a chance to challenge for the NBA playoffs, but only if they face the Houston Rockets in the finals instead of the Golden State Warriors, according to Shaquille O’Neal.
LeBron James helped the Cavaliers famously upset the odds as they came back from 3-1 down to defeat the then reigning champions Warriors 4-3 in the 2016 finals, to win the first-ever NBA championship for the city.
The Bay Area side responded in the offseason by adding Kevin Durant to their ranks and were able to comfortably win a second NBA title in three years as they nearly swept the entire playoffs in 2017, dropping just the one game to the Cavaliers who they beat 4-1 in the finals.
With Kyrie Irving leaving Cleveland for the Boston Celtics, the Cavaliers have not been as strong this season as previous years and currently lie third in the Eastern Conference with a regular season record of 44-30.
However, most would put their money on James’ men reaching the finals and O’Neal, a former four-time NBA champion, believes despite the Houston Rockets’ blistering form, the Cavaliers would fare better in a match-up against them rather than the Warriors who are currently second in the Western Conference.
“They look good,” O’Neal said on NBA on TNT, as per Express. “I think if they match up against Houston in the Finals it will be an even match-up.”
“I still don’t think they have enough for the mighty Golden State. Golden State are banged right up now so we’ll see how they do but they’re [Cleveland] are looking good, they’re playing well.”
O’Neal notably played with James during his time with the Cavaliers from 2009 to 2010 as he heaped praise on his former teammate who is still playing and breaking records at the highest level at 33 years of age.
James recently recorded 17 assists without a single turnover against the Toronto Raptors while he also became just the third player in NBA history to record 10-plus seasons of 2,000 points or more during the 121-114 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday last week.
“We’ve all been watching him since a kid,” O’Neal added. “I had the opportunity to play with him for two years and nobody that I played with, besides Kobe, who worked out and took care of everybody as much as those two did.”
“He’s playing great, he’s playing phenomenal ball and when you’re a youngster and get an opportunity to play in this league and then people say you’re great, when they say you’re great now there’s only a couple of things you need to do after that: winning championships. Right now he’s just trying to add more chapters to his book.”
The Cavaliers, however, saw their five-game winning streak end against the Miami Heat after a crushing 98-79 loss on Tuesday night.