SANTA MONICA, Calif. – Not long after he was finished being the host at the NBA Awards Show on Monday night, Hall of Fame center Shaquille O’Neal made a bold prediction that should make every follower of the Dallas Mavericks jump up and shout.

Now an analyst for TNT, O’Neal was asked his opinion of the Mavs, who enter next season with a pair of bonafide young superstars in Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. And the four-time NBA champion quickly noted that he’s already penciled in the Mavs as one of the eight teams that will reach the Western Conference playoffs next season.

“I still think they need two more pieces to be a top team in the West,” O’Neal told “Will they win games and make the playoffs? Definitely.

“But you still got to go through Houston, Golden State — and New Orleans is coming on strong. And the (Los Angeles) Lakers, of course. I still think (the Mavs) need about two more pieces.”

The 20-year Doncic believes there will be some high-caliber players waiting to join him and the 23-year old Porzingis through free agency and help the Mavs qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2016.

“Me and KP, we’re young, so I think we need some help. . .players that can help us,” Doncic said. “But if we get or don’t get (players), we’re going to try to get to the playoffs any way.”

The Mavs are hopeful of making a big splash during free agency, which starts Sunday at 5 p.m. In the meantime, the Mavs are basking in the glow of Doncic becoming the first player in the organization’s history to outright win the Rookie of the Year trophy.

“I don’t know that being the Rookie of the Year changes (things) in terms of visibility or has an impact on the brand of the organization, but it’s great for Luka,” proprietor Mark Cuban said. “It’s who he is on the court, it’s what he can do on the court.

“Hopefully it’s the motivation to be the best in the game, and how it impacts him as an individual. And that’s the exciting part.”

For Hall of Fame and 12-time All-Star guard Isiah Thomas, one of the exciting parts for him about this past season was watching Doncic evolve into becoming an elite player.

“He’s the best rookie, he’s the best rookie, he’s the best rookie,” said Thomas, an NBA champion with the Detroit Pistons in 1989 and ’90, and the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player in ’90. “What Luka did from Day One to Game 82, not only did he carry the team, but from a playmaker, from an understanding, from a leadership standpoint, I just thought he was great the whole year.

“It’s surprising that they gave the rookie so much responsibility, and they trusted him so much in those game-ending situations. To me that says a lot about how not only the team felt about him, but the rest of the league felt about him.”

Doncic received 98 out of a possible 100 first-place votes in the race for the Rookie of the Year honor. That prompted his agent, Bill Duffy, to say: “It should have been 100.”

Duffy lined out what’s next for Doncic, who averaged 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and six assists while racking up eight triple-doubles this past season.

“Just get ready to take the team to the next level now that he’s established himself in the league,” Duffy said. “So it’s a matter of lifting the team. That’s all he’s focused on.”

After being the MVP in the EuroLeague in 2018, Doncic started his first NBA season with 21 or more points in four of his first seven games. And he just kept obliterating opponents from there.

Meanwhile, Doncic’s name is forever linked with some of the giants of the NBA – Michael Jordan, Jason Kidd, Elgin Baylor, Tim Duncan, Wilt Chamberlain, LeBron James, Oscar Robertson, Willis Reed, Kevin Durant, Lew Alcindor and O’Neal – players who have the Rookie of the Year trophy as part of their treasure chest.

“It’s so well deserved, because he had a goal to come over here (from Slovenia) and establish himself,” Mavs forward Kostas Antetokounmpo said. “He worked really hard and I’m really proud of him.

“This is just the beginning. He’s getting better and better, and the sky’s the limit for him.”

For now, the Mavs are hoping O’Neal’s prediction of a berth in next year’s playoffs comes true.

“Especially I’m excited for next year,” Doncic said. “We’re trying to get to the playoffs.

“I can’t until this season starts, so I’m happy.”

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