Before explaining why, we need to agree the NBA is a league of matchups. And the NBA playoffs are matchups on steroids, as each team gets nothing but continuous looks at the same plays and same defenders for up to seven games in a playoff series.
It doesn't matter which of the two teams has more talent. What matters is which team can create a mis match that the other team cannot counter—offensively or defensively.
Take a look at the regular season of each of the teams that made the playoffs this year in the NBA. Pick any team, then reference their regular season results against the teams they faced in the playoffs.
You will notice both the Lakers and the Magic had winning records in the regular season for each team they faced on the road to the Finals, except the Magic and the Cavs series was tied at two games a piece.
Lakers against their first round opponent Utah? Lakers won two of three in the regular season... The Lakers swept their second round opponent the Houston Rockets 3-0 in the regular season. The Lakeshow also beat the Nuggets two out of three in the regular season before drop kicking them in five games in the Western Conference Championship.
Do you see the trend? The outcome of the regular season contests matter because you get a look at how the teams matchup.
Same trend applies for Orlando who beat the 76ers 3-0 in the regular season, then won their first round series against them. As mentioned previously, the Magic tied the Celtics 2-2 in the regular season, but won the second round series against the defending Champs in a seven game second round thriller.
The Magic also beat the Cavs two out of three regular season contests before dominating the Cavs in six games of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Now that we have established that not one single team in the 2009 NBA playoff field advanced through a team that bested them in the regular season matchup, let's look at why Jameer Nelson is so important to the outcome of the NBA Finals between the Lakers and the Magic.
The Lakers played the Magic twice this year. They played a home-and-away series. The Magic won both games.
But before you hop a plane to Vegas to load up on Dwight Howard and his posse, let's take a closer look at how those two games went down.
On Dec. 20 at Amway Arena in Orlando, the Magic won the game 109 to 103 with Jameer Nelson pacing the Magic with 27 points. Kobe led all scorers with a then-season-high 41 in the losing effort.
Jan. 16 at the Staples Center in LA, Nelson again led the Magic, scoring 15 of his 28 in the fourth quarter to lead his team to a 109-103 road victory. Bryant scored 28 in the losing effort.
If Nelson was healthy, you would have an excellent argument that the underdog Magic should be the odds on favorite.
But Nelson is not healthy.
Even if Nelson returns for the finals, you can't expect him to pace the Magic in scoring. Backup point guard Rafer Alston has averaged 11.7 points per game in the post season.
If Orlando is going to win the Championship, either Rafer or Nelson is going to have to win the point guard matchup, like Nelson did twice earlier this season.