This one is too close to call

FRANK ZICARELLI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:33 AM ET

Two teams that feature young all-stars in the frontcourt, two teams that rely on perimeter shooting and two teams that will tip off their best-of-seven series Sunday afternoon in the land of Disney.

Too bad one has to lose in an opening-round matchup that is too close to call, at least on paper.

It has been said ad nauseam, but it bears repeating that the post-season ushers in a new season, a time when records mean nothing in a pressure-filled atmosphere where every possession is critical.

Above all else, playoff basketball is about matchups and the Raptors match up well against the Magic, even though the teams ended the regular season separated by 11 wins.

Of all the top-seeded teams in the East, No. 3 seed Orlando provides the best opportunity for Toronto to advance past the first round since Alvin (Boogie) Williams nailed jump shot after jump shot in a Game 5 win on basketball's biggest stage in 2001 when the Raptors escaped New York's Madison Square Garden with the franchise's first and only series conquest.

Unlike last spring's foray into the playoffs, the Raptors enter this year with no momentum, no home-court advantage and no fear in facing Orlando.

Both the Magic and the Raptors have drawn motivation and believe they've both matured from last year's experience, which saw Orlando get swept by the top-seeded Pistons and Toronto toppled by the Nets and Vince Carter.

"We were just happy to be in the playoffs,'' Orlando's Dwight Howard said, a sentiment that is shared by his Toronto counterpart, good friend and fellow all-star Chris Bosh. "This year it means something.

"People who don't believe in the Magic, we want them to start believing."

Orlando and the Raptors met three times in the regular season with the Magic splitting a pair at the Air Canada Centre, while winning at home as Bosh sat out with an injured knee.

Orlando averaged 105.7 points in the season series by making close to 50% of its shots from the field.

Keep in mind that Orlando has lost seven of its past nine games to Toronto, which leads many to believe that this series will go the distance.

When one looks at the various matchups, one can also conclude that seven games might be necessary.

FRONTCOURT

Chris Bosh, Rasho Nesterovic and Jamario Moon have become the face of Toronto's frontline.

Nesterovic has stepped up by knocking down shots, while Moon has to raise his level as he prepares for his post-season debut.

Bosh posted averages of 33.0 points and 7.5 rebounds against Dwight Howard, including a 40-point game in Toronto's lone win.

Hedo Turkoglu should have been an all-star and is among the leading candidates for the most improved player award. He nearly put up a triple double against Toronto, averaging 21.3 points, 8.6 rebounds and 7.7 assists.

Rashard Lewis averaged 20.7 points, while Howard posted averages of 24.3 points and 12.7 rebounds.

Edge: Orlando because of Howard's rebounding presence and Turkoglu's ability to play point forward.

BACKCOURT

Jameer Nelson is a serviceable point guard, but none of Keyon Dooling, Carlos Arroyo, Maurice Evans or Keith Bogans is capable of taking games over.

The Raptors need T.J. Ford to fully use his quickness advantage and Anthony Parker must defend the perimeter.

EDGE: Toronto because of Jose Calderon, who enters the post-season with this mind-blowing stat: 45 assists and zero turnovers in five games.

BENCH

Pat Garrity brings grit, Adonal Foyle shot blocking and a host of Magic reserves can knock down shots.

In games in which Carlos Delfino scores 20 or more points, the Raptors are 5-0.

Sooner or later, Andrea Bargnani and Jason Kapono will have an impact.

EDGE: Toronto because its bench is long overdue to break out.

COACHING

Stan Van Gundy has a proven assistant in Brendan Malone and a playoff-tough pedigree.

The jury is still out on Sam Mitchell and his staff.

EDGE: Orlando because of its consistent play. Keep in mind that the Magic is 32-1 when holding opponents to 95 or fewer points.


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