Not a banged-up Kobe Bryant and the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. And certainly not the aging Boston Celtics, who the Hall of Famer believes have too much mileage on their legs to mount a real threat.
"When you get older and people say, 'When we get healthy,'" Barkley said Tuesday during a conference call. "Older people die, they don't get healthier."
Cleveland and Boston could meet in the second round, and Barkley sees the Cavaliers advancing.
"I think the Cavaliers are going to win the whole thing," he said.
Barkley and fellow TNT analysts Kevin McHale and Doug Collins all agree that a potential Cleveland-Orlando matchup would make a terrific Eastern Conference final, with the winner likely meeting the Lakers for the championship.
But they aren't ready to guarantee Los Angeles a third straight trip to the NBA Finals.
"The Lakers appear to be the team to beat [in the West], but they've got a lot of question marks right now," Collins said, listing Bryant's condition, their depth if Andrew Bynum isn't healthy, and their ability to defend quick point guards.
McHale said he would be less surprised than others if the Lakers weren't in the Finals, especially after getting a look at Bryant's broken right index finger when the reigning NBA Finals MVP appeared recently on the NBA TV studio show that features McHale. The injury has caused Bryant to shoot poorly late in the season.
"His finger looks just as bad as it did during the All-Star Game. I was surprised it didn't look a lot better," McHale said. "That thing is really, really looking bad. The swelling hasn't gone down. It still looks really, really funky."
Fear of injuries is part of the reason Cavaliers coach Mike Brown has rested James the last three games with home-court advantage throughout the NBA Finals already secured. He may consider playing the league's MVP Wednesday in the season finale against Atlanta, when Shaquille O'Neal is expected to return from his thumb injury.
Barkley thinks James probably should play. He felt it was a mistake that he, Kevin Johnson and Dan Majerle rested so much after Phoenix wrapped everything up in 1993. The Suns were rusty when they opened the playoffs against the Lakers and immediately fell into a 2-0 hole at home, forcing them to play more games than necessary before eventually reaching the Finals.
"I'm a little surprised they've rested LeBron as much as possible," Barkley said. "It's not like he's 39 years old, so I think Cleveland has to really be careful."
The Celtics once looked like the biggest threat to Cleveland, but have struggled over the second half of the season and don't defend nearly as well as they did while winning the 2008 championship.
"You can see they're not the same. The energy level is not the same," Barkley said.
"I think the Celtics went for it, they won a championship, and now they're just an older team. Kevin Garnett is one of my favorite players. You can just tell he's not the same player."
The postseason opens Saturday.