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Rip Hamilton, Kobe Bryant renew rivalry

DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Familiarity does not breed contempt for Rip Hamilton and Kobe Bryant, who renew a rivalry Sunday that dates back to high school and includes an NBA Finals showdown.

They've been battling each other since high school days in the Philadelphia area, and they'll be facing each other again on Christmas Day when Hamilton and the Chicago Bulls visit the Los Angeles Lakers.

"I enjoy it," Hamilton said after the Bulls' practice Friday afternoon. "It's fun because we've been knowing each other since we were 16, playing on the same [summer league] team. Getting an opportunity to play in high school and then in the Finals. And still get an opportunity to play against each other [is great]."

Hamilton got the best of Bryant when his Detroit Pistons won the NBA Championship in 2004. He knows that the future Hall of Famer is one of the toughest guys in the league to defend. The key in Hamilton's mind is to make Bryant work for everything he gets.

"Just make it tough [on] both ends," Hamilton said. "Just as hard as you got to guard him, you got to force him to guard you also. It's fun. It's an exciting matchup."

Hamilton and his teammates have no doubt Bryant will play on Sunday, despite the fact that he tore a ligament in his wrist during Monday night's preseason game. Bryant said on Thursday that he'll play.

"When the ball is thrown up, a lot of guys are able to tune [the injury] out, to go ahead and compete," Hamilton said. "So you can never look at [the injury] as a disadvantage."

And despite the trade of Lamar Odom and the suspension of Andrew Bynum, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau knows his opponent remains dangerous.

"[The Lakers] got a lot of talent," Thibodeau said. "A lot of experience. We're going to have to be ready. I'm planning on Bryant playing. [Pau] Gasol [is] one of the premier bigs in the league. They're going to be tough."

Hamilton knows that it will be tough for the Lakers to play without Bynum, who is suspended for the first four games of the season because of a cheap shot he took on Dallas Mavericks guard J.J. Barea in last season's Finals.

"[That's] big, huge," Hamilton said. "The last couple years they've been so great on just how big they were with Bynum, Odom, Gasol. Without Bynum, I know for them it's going to be tough, but they'll adjust. They're a veteran team. They've been playing without him the last couple years sometimes. They'll adjust, they're a good team."

As for who might start the game guarding Bryant on Sunday, Thibodeau was non-committal, although Hamilton and Luol Deng figure to see a lot of minutes against the star guard.

"We'll see," Thibodeau said. "We'll see."

Nick Friedell covers the Bulls for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.