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Lakers a different team when the bench comes through

Pro BasketballSportsBasketballLos Angeles LakersPau GasolKobe BryantSteve Nash

The Lakers are a different team when players such as Wesley Johnson and Jordan Farmar contribute at a high level.

After a sluggish start in Tuesday's preseason game against the Utah Jazz, the Lakers came to life in the first half behind an offensive burst from Johnson. The Lakers finished out a 108-94 win with a big second half from Farmar.

"It's definitely important that the bench brings a spark to our team," Pau Gasol said after the game. "Jordan played really well.  He was feeling well about himself and making shots. Wesley played really well, right off the bat."

Gasol is a lot healthier than he was a year ago but Kobe Bryant is still sidelined while recovering from an Achilles injury. Steve Nash was injured most of last year and has been struggling through the preseason with a sore ankle and other nagging issues.

The Lakers are going to need players such as Johnson and Farmar to be regular contributors for the team to have any sustained success this season.

"I thought Wesley was outstanding," Coach Mike D'Antoni said.  "He can get a lot better. I think he's just scratching the surface."

The team hopes that Johnson can develop into a defensive stopper but on Tuesday he shot the ball with tremendous confidence, hitting five of eight from the field for 14 points.

"I wasn't too much worried about my shot not falling. I was just trying doing everything else," said Johnson, who shot just 25% from the field through his first three preseason appearances. "I knew my shot would come around, so I decided to stay confident with it."

Johnson missed some time with a foot injury. The Lakers need his athleticism on the floor offensively and defensively.

Farmar was also out with a calf injury. He played one of the team's two exhibition games in China but admitted that after sitting out for a couple of weeks, he was tired just a few seconds in.

"I'm just getting my wind back and my legs under me," he said.  "I'm just trying to feel my game, be comfortable with the guys I'm playing with and try to see the unit we're going to see out there this season."

Suddenly, Farmar is the team's leading scorer through the preseason, at 13.7 points per game, slightly ahead of Gasol's 13.3.

Even if the Lakers get strong years from Bryant, Gasol and Nash, they'll need depth to compete.

Tuesday night was a good sign -- next step, consistency.

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Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.

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