OKLAHOMA CITY - Tonight could be Andre Roberson’s triumphant return when the Thunder take on the Lakers at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Tip is set for 7 p.m. CT.

The Thunder is 4-4 since its defensive ace went out with patellar tendinitis in his left knee, but never in his career did OKC fans miss Roberson like they have the past eight games. The fifth-year player has always been a project on the offensive end and he’ll likely be targeted again by opponents using the “Hack-a-Roberson” strategy, especially in the playoffs.

But it has taken this eight-game stretch for people to realize just how much Roberson affects the defense and rebounding aspects of the game. With him on the court, the Thunder have higher percentages in rebounding, assists and steals. Without Roberson on the court, opponents’ offensive rating skyrockets 11.5 points and the Thunder are out-rebounded.

OKC beat L.A. 133-96 two weeks ago, handing the Lakers their eight-straight loss on Jan. 3. Since then, the Lakers have gone 4-2 including a win against the Spurs. Point guard and headline machine Lonzo Ball remains out and forward Larry Nance Jr. is questionable with a hip pointer.

Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram will shoulder the load for L.A. The Lakers are fastest-paced team in the league but just 29th in offensive rating, emphasizing the team’s youth.

Russell Westbrook has been on a tear since mid-December and is very nearly averaging a triple double again. Westbrook would have to grab 21 rebounds and get 13 assists tonight to bring his averages to 25-10-10. Last time out he tied a season-best with 16 rebounds.

The Thunder sits in fifth-place in the West, four games behind Minnesota and just a half game ahead of New Orleans.