For Rip Hamilton, playing against Kobe Bryant is nothing new. Not just because the two play the same position and Hamilton's been in the league for 13 years, but because the two go back to their high school days in suburban Philadelphia.

"I enjoy it," said Hamilton after Friday afternoon's Bulls practice, prior to departing for Los Angeles. "It's fun because we've known each other since we were 16, playing on the same AAU team, getting an opportunity to play in high school and the 2004 NBA Finals, and still get an opportunity to compete against each other."

While matching up with Bryant isn't an easy matchup for anyone, Hamilton's picked up a few pointers over the years to have at least a modicum of success against the perennial All-Star.

"Just make it tough, on both ends," he said about his childhood friend, who he'll face on Sunday's season opener. "Just as hard as you guard him, you've got to force him to guard you. So, it's fun. It's an exciting matchup."

Hamilton also isn't buying into the talk about Bryant's ailing wrist, an injury that the Lakers superstar vowed he'd play through.

"When the ball is thrown up, a lot of guys are able to tune that out, to go ahead and compete," he said. "You can't really look at that as a disadvantage."

As far as the Lakers as a group, Hamilton does see a difference from previous seasons, as versatile forward Lamar Odom was traded to the defending-champion Mavericks and heading into Sunday, they'll also be without center Andrew Bynum, who's suspended for the first four games of the regular season for a flagrant foul in the last playoffs.

 

"The last couple years, they've been so great off just how big they were, with, Odom, Gasol," Hamilton opined. "So without Bynum, I know for them, it's going to be tough. But they'll adjust. They're a veteran team."

But regardless of the opponent, Hamilton is just happy to be back on a team worthy of playing in one of the league's showcase games, a Christmas Day matinee.

"It feels good to be back in a situation where people want to see you play and you've got a special chance to have a special season," he said. "It's the first game of many and we just want to be prepared to go out and try to get a win."