Toughest loss of the season for the Jazz but easily their best-played game.Raja Bell had his finger on the pulse, as always.Bell on what Utah's learned about itself: We've made a lot of improvement from where we were at the beginning of the season, X-and-O wise, execution-wise and just plain-old-effort wise. We were game. We kind of laid down in L.A. that first night to this team. I think they're probably a better team than they were then, too, so that says something about us. The direction the Jazz are going: Yeah, I think we're headed in the right direction. To lose to the Lakers, there are worse things. We could've won that game. We probably should've won that game. But when you get right down to it, we were slugging away with them all the way down to the last 0.7 seconds. If you measure us against where we started this season, I think you can't take anything but good stuff away from that. Obviously, a loss is a loss. But I do think we're headed in the direction.Kobe Bryant scoring 40 points: If he's going to take 31 shots to get 40, then that's pretty much all you can do. Anyone shooting 31 shots could score 40.Bryant on Bell, courtesy of fellow Jazz beat writer Tony Jones: He can't stop me. He knows that. But he's good enough to make it interesting.Another solid game by Bell, who scored seven points on 3-of-4 shooting. After working through early-season frustration, he's spent the last three contests showing why he's essential to Utah's maturation.Earl Watson was less sunny, dealing with an sprained left knee and feeling the pain of defeat.Watson on what he took from the game: I'm not really big on praising effort in losses. Winning, to me, is very important. You never accept losing. Watching it just hurt. You never accept it. When you're a part of it, it's really tough. We didn't get to where we was applauding effort. It's one we definitely could have had. Applaud them for being focused down the stretch and making plays. But it's that next level that we have to get to, as far as building in layers. When you play a team like that, the layers and the details and the fourth and fifth and sixth play has to be on point. And we have to go to that point.His knee: When Raja went to try to block the shot, he swung his leg and he kicked my knee. My knee went in. So hopefully it's nothing serious and it's just a hyperextension or a sprain. … [An MRI] depends on what the swelling looks like in the morning, so we go from there.Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin on Paul Millsap's second-consecutive strong game: He's playing really well. He's playing smart. He's playing within what he does. He can get the ball close to the basket; he can step out 17, 18 feet and hit the jump shot.Jazz's progress made the loss easier to take: The guys are playing hard and I can't do nothing but applaud the effort. They're really growing. We're getting better. We had opportunities to win this game tonight, we just didn't get over the hump. But the effort's been great, man. You can deal with the loss if we played as hard as we played tonight. Defending Bryant: I thought we did a great job. He took 31 shots and 11 free throws. … I thought our guys, Raja and Gordon [Hayward] for a while and Josh [Howard], did a great job of fighting and making him work for everything he got. He made some tough shots.Howard on him, Millsap and Al Jefferson carrying the scoring load: It's big. I've been on teams where we needed three-headed monsters like that. Night in and night out, if we can get people to be consistent like that, that's going to help us out a lot. Confidence and smoothness increasing with every game: Actually, I was a bit banged up today. I came in and got a lot of treatment extra early. … Quad hurting; got a little tendinitis in my right knee. … I've got to keep going.Howard had his best outing since joining the Jazz. He played more minutes (33:52) than anyone besides Millsap and Jefferson, and he scored 14 of his 18 points during the second half and overtime.
Howard was the third-best Utah player on the hardwood during OT, and he offset poor nights by starters Hayward (two points) and Devin Harris (three).
When Howard drilled a 3-pointer with 2:57 to go in the extra period, making it 85-81 Jazz, he lifted his left hand toward the EnergySolutions Arena ceiling, made a fist and looked completely at home in Utah. He's also one of the best free-agent additions any team made after the lockout ended.Millsap and Howard were the only Jazz players to score during OT.Bell: We're always better when our ball's moving and people are moving, and there were a few possessions there where we got the ball to the post really late in the shot clock and then we stood and watched. … It was a credit to the Lakers. They turned the defense up, made us take tough shots and go one-on-one a bit.Harris is averaging just 5.2 points during Jazz's last five games and shooting 23.3 percent from the field. He's recorded six points or less in four of five contests.Jefferson said the Lakers just "have my number." After shooting 2 of 16 from the field during Utah's season-opening 96-71 road loss to Los Angeles, Jefferson was held to 5-of-17 shooting for 11 points Wednesday. It followed a season-high 30-point outing Tuesday during a home win against Cleveland. Andrew Bynum primarily guarded Jefferson, and the combination of Bynum's bulk with Pau Gasol's length consistently troubled Jefferson.Hayward scored a season-high 18 points last Saturday during a road win against Golden State. He's responded with seven combined points on 2-of-12 shooting during the Jazz's last two games. He's passing the ball well (13 combined assists) but dishing off too often and regularly ignoring open looks.The Jazz were again saved by their bench. Utah's reserves outscored the Lakers 35-11."They're making the most of the minutes," Corbin said.As promising as Millsap has been the last two games, the Jazz's lack of outside shooting continues to be troubling. Utah was 4 of 14 (28.6 percent) behind the 3-point line and is shooting just 27 percent this season.Bryant's the best player I've ever covered in any sport.Brian T. SmithTwitter: @tribjazz