The cheerleaders — er, journalists ‚— who shill for — er, cover —the Raptors are predictably predicting post-season success for their — er, the — team.


What gives their hunch far more credibility is that Charles Barkley and his objective cohorts at TNT also suspect the Raptors will defeat Vince Carter and the New Jersey Nets in the opening round of the playoffs.


At ESPN, however, the advice is that the Raptors and their fanatics ought to brace themselves for a one-and-done scenario.


“I think there’ll be only one upset in the first round of the NBA playoffs,” ESPN’s Tom Tolbert said, “and that’ll be the Nets over the Raptors. Jason Kidd might be just a bit past his prime, but he, Carter and (Richard) Jefferson are too much to handle for that very young team in Canada.”


And this from another ESPN expert, Marc Stein: “Given the Nets’ considerable edge in playoff experience, proven ability to play Toronto’s game and the unavailability of Raps’ rookie glue guy Jorge Garbajosa, I can’t pick the Canadians to extend their return to the post-season to Round 2 … ”

Indeed, playoff experience matters, just as it matters in hockey.

Take the Pittsburgh Penguins. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal already are stars in the NHL, but they’re still young and were, until now, completely unfamiliar with NHL playoffs.

And so they were subdued rather easily by the Senators in the first round — bowing out with a 3-0 loss in Ottawa last night. Still, their talents cannot honestly be questioned. What did them in largely was their lack of post-season experience. They’ll be significantly better at this time next season.

Similarly, Chris Bosh and a couple of other Raptors are irrefutably NBA stars. But they're entering unchartered territory in the post-season, and that’s why Tolbert and Stein make sense.

It’d be an upset if the Nets win but even the oddsmakers were second-guessing their line as the hours passed yesterday. In the morning, the Raptors were 1.70 favourites to beat the Nets. By night time, the line plunged to 1.50.

My advice: Take the Nets. But then, I’ve been wrong all season about the Raptors.