NEW ORLEANS -- Joakim Noah cleared another hurdle in his recovery from surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb. The 6-11 center has begun participating in half-court contact drills during practice and remains on schedule to return to the active roster immediately following the All-Star break.
"He hasn't been cleared yet to do the (full-court) scrimmaging part, which will be the next step for him," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "What (trainer) Fred (Tedeschi) has laid out is a plan for progression. (Noah) is cleared for contact and the next phase will be total contact."
That final phase could come as early as Monday when the Bulls return to the Berto Center for their first practice following the nearly two-week road trip that wraps up tonight against the New Orleans Hornets.
When he's cleared for total contact, Noah could conceivably play in a game immediately, but the Bulls have decided that he won't see game action until Feb. 23 when they play at Toronto. Coincidentally, Toronto was the last place he played on Dec. 15 before having surgery the next day.
"I'm very excited," Noah said. "I'm working out, I've got some tape on my hand instead of a little cast, I can shoot a little bit and I'll get back on the court as soon as I can.
"It's been good just getting use to the contact again. Obviously, I'm still not where I want to be, but I'm working hard at it every day."