EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- On Friday, the swamps of Jersey couldn't absorb the deluge of Lakers nation into Izod Center.
You entered the lobby and Lakers fans were everywhere, with at least five Lakers jerseys for everyone one Nets uni. They wore Lakers gold No. 24, Lakers gold No. 8, Lakers white No. 24, Lakers purple, gold Gasol jerseys, old-school Lakers jerseys without the notched collar, old-school Lakers warmups, Lakers t-shirts and even ... shhhh! ... the occasional Shaq jersey.
Then there were the hats. Black hats, gold hats, Kangols, a Sikh's turban and even a Dodgers hat sprinkled here and there.
Not much of this is surprising. Lakers fans are everywhere. With 55 playoff appearances in 61 seasons and more than half of those postseason trips -- 29 -- have reached the NBA Finals. They're America's basketball team, and those who loved them were out in full force.
So it was no shock late in the third quarter when the MVP chants started rolling down from the upper reaches of the Izod Center like a summer storm across the Plains.
They stood. They cheered. They partied and woofed like it was 1989 and they were at a taping of "The Arsenio Hall Show."
And then, they realized who was at the free throw line. It wasn't the man they had come to see. Instead of a 6-foot-6 future Hall-of-Famer with supernatural skills, it was the Lakers' 7-foot Spaniard with facial hair as scruffy as a desert floor.
If it had been a Hollywood movie, the needle would have scratched across the record. As it was, an embarrassed hush followed as the Lakers' faithful allowed Pau Gasol to sink his second free throw in the relative library-like silence.
It was a shame, really, that the Lakers fans stayed quiet. They should have kept it up. Kobe Byrant is the Lakers' MVP, but on Friday the P in MVP stood for Pau.
Now, to give the Lakers' fans credit, Bryant -- on a sprained ankle -- had just drained three 3-pointers in a row and made the nice pass that led to Gasol getting fouled. But it was Pau's night.
Gasol finished with 36 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists to lift L.A. to a 103-95 win over the Nets here on Friday. The win clinched the best record in the West. Any sense of excitement about that? "No, not really," said a blasé Bryant. "It's a good accomplishment, but we have a lot of work ahead."
The win also made them a perfect 4-0 on this seven-game road trip. Earlier this season, the Lakers swept a six-game road trip. If they run the table on this seven-game swing, the Lakers will have done something no other NBA team ever has. If this game against the more-than-game Nets proved, the Lakers will need both Kobe and Pau to accomplish that or any goal this season.
"I thought I was having a pretty good game before he got hurt," Gasol said of Bryant's late-late second quarter ankle sprain. "He was being aggressive. He wasn't 100 percent, but he continued to play, continued to compete."
Being aggressive has never been an issue for Bryant, who launched 19 shots, but only connected on five of them. But basketball belligerence has never been Pau's style. Despite the 11 boards, Phil Jackson noted it could have been more.
"I liked everything Pau did except rebound," Jackson said. "In the first half, he did not rebound the way I wanted him to rebound. It's one of the things we keep harping on him if we're going to be a team that competes and what we expect to do. We need to rebound the basketball."
Considering the Lakers lead the league in rebounds per game with 44.2. It seemed like nitpicking. But because he's Phil Jackson, he can quibble. He's won nine titles and he has seen the NBA game played as close to perfection as it could be played. Pau, knowing his being a pest in the post is necessary for the Lakers to succeed, agreed.
"I left a couple rebounds go, especially in that second quarter," Pau said. "There were two or three rebounds that I wasn't persistent enough to go get them and control them.
"But I stayed strong in the second half, was able to get a couple nice rebounds and a couple nice blocks and that was it."
Gasol makes it sound as simple as he made it look on Friday. Then again, that's what an MVP does ... even if the fans don't recognize.