Phase II of the Jazz's 10-year reconstruction project ended, Friday night, in the place they did most of their finest work: in their own house. Same same place they crushed the Hornets, stomped Detroit and even once wiped out the Lakers.

Maybe it was the slump in the construction industry that sidetracked their post-Mail/Stock undertaking. Perhaps, like downtown Salt Lake, it's going to take seven or eight years to see the finished product. Or maybe the construction will never really end.

But eventually, even the comfort of their own home — where they won 41 games — couldn't get them past the Los Angeles Lakers, who eliminated them 108-105.

The Lakers led from the time the doors opened until the horn sounded. But it took until the final seconds to close them out.

This may seem heresy to Jerry Sloan, but sometimes it's not just a matter of effort. Certainly the Jazz made a determined last-minute rush. Sometimes the other guys are simply too good.

And sometimes your All-Star never shows up.

Which raises the obvious question: Are the Jazz really improving?

Probably. But these days, who isn't?

On one hand, last year in Phase I, the Jazz went to the Western Conference finals. But they got help from Golden State, which eliminated a superior Dallas team beforehand. So the Jazz got a pass.

This year, no such luck. Denver folded like a stick of gum in the first round against L.A., leaving the Jazz to play the league's hottest team.

Combined with the daunting problem of guarding the big, athletic, confident Lakers, the Jazz also had to worry about their top scorer having gone AWOL. Through the entire post-season, 12 games, Carlos Boozer scored his regular season average just once. On Friday he went just 5-16 shooting, scored only 12 points and fouled out.

The man who drew raves a year ago was a big post-season absentee in the 2008. It could have been a back injury, that has been bothering him for weeks. It might have been private matters that went on behind the scenes. Maybe he couldn't handle the expectations that he built by playing wonderfully last spring and following up with a 21-point regular season average, highest of his career.

Boozer's not the type to tank-and-tell.

In any case, they're done. And while Andrei Kirilenko has his new traveling papers — he went to San Francisco on Thursday to renew his visa for a trip to France — everyone is free to high-tail it off to places like, well, France.

Au revoir to another season.

Que sera, sera.

Not that the Jazz gave up. It didn't seem like anyone had early vacation plans, as opposed to last year's final game in San Antonio. They took it to the final second. Kirilenko made two threes and blocked a shot in the last 43 seconds. Williams carried the team on his back. Mehmet Okur helped them get close. Ronnie Brewer put on a dunking clinic.

One indication they're improving is that this year they tended to hang tougher, even after falling behind. They seldom let games games get out of hand.

They trailed in Wednesday's loss to the Lakers by as many as 12, yet were within a point with 90 seconds to go. On Friday they got behind by as far as 19, yet still had a chance to tie at the buzzer.

Still, there's a difference between the determination to hang in and the confidence to win.

Maybe they'll bring it with them next year.

If the Jazz were pumped to return home, and play to the bullish home crowd, they showed no real indication in the first quarter. They quickly fell behind by 15. They fumbled the ball, shot poorly and napped on defense.

Their hopes started fading early, after cutting an 18-point lead to 13 just before half. But when Derek Fisher drew three free throws, sinking them all, the Lakers were back up by 19.

It seemed time to go home.

But even if the Jazz are good again next year, there's this teeny, tiny worry: A lot of teams in the West are good. New Orleans was the surprise of the league. The Lakers will be back with center Andrew Bynum. Houston will return Yao Ming.

It's like an Indiana Jones movie — one doggone obstacle after another.

Who knows whether Denver will get its act together, or Dallas and Phoenix will rise again. San Antonio isn't leaving anytime soon.

That's a lot of competition for one conference.

It's enough to make you want to lock your doors and hope for the best.

That can happen when the market gets shaky.


E-mail: rock@desnews.com