Joakim Noah to start vs. Raptors

TORONTO -- As he prepared to play his first game in more than two months, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah said Wednesday he has a lot of work ahead.

"It's just been a tough time. I had to be very patient," Noah said of his time away. "Thirty games is a long time. But like I said, I'm very excited to be a part of it because our ballclub is very competitive, and we feel like when we're playing at our best, we can compete against anybody.

"But we obviously have a lot of work to do, and I know I have a lot of work to do. I haven't played a game in a long time, so ... "

Noah will start on Wednesday against the Toronto Raptors after missing 30 games following thumb surgery. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said he will play Noah in 6- to 8-minute intervals as he works his way back into playing shape.

"It could be hard, because Jo missed 30 games or something like that," Derrick Rose said. "Just getting back to playing with him, it could take a little [bit]. [Wednesday night], we're going to see how it's going to go. He's a guy that's definitely going to help us, though, with a lot of energy. Rebound, tipping the ball, doing extra stuff on the court is going to help us. But we'll have to see how it goes [Wednesday night]."

Noah will play in just his 10th game with Rose and Carlos Boozer, who missed 15 games with a hand injury earlier in the season. Together they form one of the NBA's more formidable big threes, but Thibodeau will leave that judgment for others.

"Well, the way we view ourselves, we don't get caught up in all that. The only thing we're concentrating on is improving every day and getting ready to face the Raptors," Thibodeau said. "I think the good teams in the league continually get better as the season goes along and then once you get to the playoffs it comes down to who's playing the best and who's the healthiest. So that's what we're striving for."

The Bulls have gone 22-8 since Noah's last game on Dec. 15. At 38-16, the Bulls have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference and are within striking distance of Boston and Miami.

Noah was averaging 14 points and 11.7 rebounds before his surgery to repair torn ligaments in his right thumb and hand. He has been working on his conditioning and shooting, and scrimmaging with a teammate after practice.

Noah will replace Kurt Thomas in the starting lineup. Thomas, a 15-year veteran, has averaged 4.7 points and 5.9 rebounds and 24 minutes in Noah's place.

"I think [having Noah back] gives us a lot," Rose said. "We should be able to get easy baskets. We should an up-tempo type team now. Where with Kurt, you tend to kind of slow things down a little bit, but we're excited about having [Noah] back."

The Bulls won 15 of 19 before the All-Star break, beating the Celtics to start the run and taking out San Antonio last week, and they will get a big test when they host the Heat on Thursday.

Nick Friedell covers the Bulls for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.