The Thunder wrapped up its preseason schedule Friday and, by finishing with a 1-6 record, showed little to induce optimism for the regular season, which begins Wednesday. But the Thunder’s record could be better than anyone projects. While many see a team coming off a 20-win season with an even younger core, several factors could produce significantly more victories. The most glaring is more talent. Oklahoma City took point guard Russell Westbrook with fourth pick in the NBA Draft and traded for veterans Desmond Mason and Joe Smith in August. Mason and Smith are expected to add toughness, defense and leadership, things that last year’s Sonics largely lacked. Westbrook should experience the usual rookie struggles and figures to start the season backing up Earl Watson. But he’s a better defender than Luke Ridnour or Delonte West, the Sonics’ main point guards last year. Along with Mason, Westbrook should improve a perimeter defense that was poor for a team that gave up 106.3 points a game last year. Perhaps the most crucial factor will be significant improvement from sophomores Kevin Durant and Jeff Green. Durant, last year’s Rookie of the Year, averaged 20.3 points, 4.4. rebounds and 2.4 assists. Green averaged 10.5 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists. Both have both returned with expanded games — Green improving his outside shooting and Durant improving his inside scoring and rebounding. Durant and Green talk a lot about the burden of losing 62 games and how never want that feeling again. The Thunder routinely will look to Durant and Green at the end of games, so how they close games will be key. Also in the Thunder’s favor is a the fact that 25 of its first 51 games come against teams that didn’t make the playoffs, offering the chance for a good start that builds a young team’s confidence. The prospect of an enhanced home-court advantage and low expectations could help the Thunder steal a few more wins as well. The Sonics were 13-28 at home while averaging 13,355 fans a night. That’s 355 fewer tickets than the Thunder sold in five days of season ticket sales last summer. Teams expect a rowdy Ford Center after the Hornets’ time in Oklahoma City, but they may sell the Thunder short. Last year’s Sonics had losing streaks of three, four, five, six, eight, 11 and 14 games. They also lost 13 games by five points or less. Still, Seattle competed hard. There’s no reason to think an improved Thunder won’t do the same. Playoff teams Phoenix, Dallas and Denver have question this year andcould be in decline. The Thunder also should be able to compete with Memphis, Sacramento, Minnesota and Golden State in the West and a host of teams in the East.