Lamar Odom is well aware of what needs to be done.
The Lakers forward has seen the confidence in the Denver Nuggets, witnessed the swagger of the second-best team in the Western Conference, and was definitely on the court as the Nuggets easily took two games against the Lakers this season.
For those wondering about a solution to the pesky, pugnacious Nuggets, Odom has one for Sunday's game -- get physical.
"It will be a hard game," he said Saturday. "We have to embrace the game being hard. I don't think we've done that the last couple of times we've played them."
The Nuggets pasted the Lakers in November, 105-79, as the Lakers set a team record for fewest points in a half, mustering only 23 after halftime, not to mention a pathetic two assists in the second half.
More recently, the Nuggets beat the Lakers on Feb. 5 without Carmelo Anthony, 126-113, the last game Kobe Bryant played before sitting out 18 days because of a sore left ankle. Chauncey Billups was the deciding factor, scoring 39 points and making nine three-pointers, both career highs.
"They should be confident right now," Odom said. "If the playoffs started right now, they probably think they have our number.
"This is a huge game for us. We need to keep that distance [in the standings] and we need to let them know that we can beat them."
The Lakers are 4 1/2 games ahead of the Nuggets in the West, but the Nuggets clinch a tiebreaker with a victory Sunday or April 8 in Denver.
The Nuggets have scorers -- Anthony and Billups average nearly 50 points combined. They have rebounders -- Nene, Kenyon Martin and Chris "Birdman" Andersen are strong underneath. And they have wild cards on the bench -- J.R. Smith and Ty Lawson can conjure up momentum with a moment's notice.
"They're an offensive juggernaut as far as an aggressive tack," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "They're all about taking that ball to the basket and not being denied."
They also apparently have no fear.
Martin might not play because of a sore knee, but Smith will be on the court a few days after a confident, and grammatically shaky, note on his Twitter feed: "Dont get me wrong kobe is great but not when he play me."
Smith didn't exactly back down from his comments, later chiding people who angrily wrote back to him by responding, "Here comes the hate! Yes! thank you ill take all the haters."
Bryant had 33 points on 11-for-22 shooting this month against the Nuggets but had 19 points on seven-for-17 shooting in the November loss.
He did not talk to reporters after Saturday's practice but did talk about Denver generically after the Lakers' 99-90 victory Friday over Philadelphia.
"[If] we can keep them in a half-court game, stop them from getting those transition threes, keep Carmelo off the free-throw line, we should be OK," he said.
Odom had the most logical way to stem the Nuggets' confidence.
"By winning," he said. "We don't care if it's by 20 or if it's by two."
Another quiet night?
The Lakers weren't very motivated against Philadelphia, and neither was the Staples Center crowd, in Jackson's opinion.
"I think the crowd was visiting with one another, having such a good time," he said sarcastically.
Later he added, "I saw a lot of the back of heads when I looked back at the crowd."
Sasha Vujacic could return to the Lakers after a three-game trip that ends March 7, Jackson said. Vujacic has sat out three games because of a sprained right shoulder.
Luke Walton is still out indefinitely because of a pinched nerve in his lower back. He might have season-ending surgery if the back does not respond to therapy.
"We're going to wait and see how he progresses," Jackson said.
Tip-off or face-off?
The Lakers have their first Sunday afternoon home game of the season, tipping off at 12:30 on Channel 7, but the U.S.-Canada gold-medal hockey game starts at 12:15 on Channel 4.
What to do?
"There's so many timeouts in an NBA basketball game that you can go watch that hockey game many, many minutes," Jackson said. "Just check it out between timeouts."