Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah will miss the next eight to 10 weeks after having surgery on his right hand to repair a torn ligament.
The team said Noah had successful surgery on Thursday morning to repair the ulnar collateral ligament, which is the band of tissue attached to the middle joint of the thumb. He was hurt during Chicago's win at Sacramento on Nov. 27.
Bulls athletic trainer Fred Tedeschi said surgery now avoids a more risky procedure later.
Even with the injury, Noah had 11 points and 11 rebounds in 26 minutes in the Bulls' 110-93 win at Toronto on Wednesday night. The fourth-year player has career-best averages in points (14.0) and rebounds (11.7).
Second-year player Taj Gibson is expected to replace Noah in the starting lineup, beginning Saturday at home against the Clippers.
"It's a blow," general manager Gar Forman said. "Carlos (Boozer) was just getting back into the mix and they were getting used to playing together. We'll get that back."
The Bulls played their first 15 games without Boozer, who had a broken bone in his right hand. Chicago went 9-6 with Boozer out of the lineup, and has gone 7-2 with Boozer and Noah starting together in the frontcourt.
The popular center had a breakout season a year ago and has been playing strong enough this year to be considered worthy of All-Star consideration.
"First and foremost, you feel bad for Joakim," Forman said. "He put so much into preparation for this season. Our feeling was that he was playing at an All-Star level."
Forman said Noah should be back in plenty of time to get back in the flow before the playoffs.
"We'll have him for a solid 4 to 6 weeks heading what we hope will be the postseason," he said. "It's the kind of injury where he'll be able to maintain his conditioning. When he comes back, it probably should be pretty seamless."
Former Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich suffered a similar injury in November 2008 and missed nine weeks.
"Kirk's injury was similar," Tedeschi said. "Over the next 8 to 10 weeks, we'll find out just how similar. You've got to let the ligament heal. The biology is the biology. Hopefully it'll follow a good course."
Noah had been visibly uncomfortable with the injury in recent games and Tedeschi said it was remarkable that he was able to play.
"Every one of these (types of injury) that I've dealt with," said Tedeschi, "either through pain or instability, they've never been able to play. Joakim was able to function at a high level, which is very, very unusual for these injuries."
Besides Gibson, 15-year veteran Kurt Thomas, who has played just 12 minutes so far this season, is expected to see increased playing time. he Bulls have 14 players on its current roster, one shy of the league maximum, but Forman said that the team is likely to stand pat in the short term.