Joakim Noah to return Wednesday

CHICAGO -- As expected, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah will return to action in Toronto on Wednesday after missing 30 games because of thumb surgery, coach Tom Thibodeau confirmed Monday in a wide-ranging interview with ESPNChicago.com.

"He's coming back," he said in the telephone interview. "He was cleared to go last week."

Back for Toronto?

"Oh yeah," he said.

The Bulls have soared despite their center's absence, going 22-8 since his 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.

Thibodeau said Noah should have an easier adjustment than did Carlos Boozer, because Noah has played this season. But he's not expecting a seamless transition.

"That's the challenge," Thibodeau said. "Just like at the start of the season, the challenge is how quickly everyone can get on the same page. When someone comes back, it's the same thing. You don't want it to be a long adjustment."

Like any coach, Thibodeau doesn't want his team to become overconfident now that it's at full strength. Noah and Boozer played only nine games together between injuries, and the team seems to be peaking. Miami comes to town Thursday.

"The important thing is to not lose sight of how you got there," Thibodeau said of the team's stature. "We have to play the same way, be ready and play hard. That's what you want."

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.