Improve defensively. Make more shots. Trim turnovers. Those are areas the Thunder must improve to significantly improve on last year’s 23-win season. But for fans who don’t dissect box scores, or stat sheets, there’s an easier barometer to monitor progress of a young team some are labeling a team on the rise: Home-court record. Oklahoma City finished 15-26 last season at the Ford Center. Post a winning record at home and the Thunder moves closer to playoff contention. Post another losing record in the Ford Center and there’s still a ways to go. "Protecting home court is a big thing,” said Nick Collison. "That would be a big step for us.” It won’t be easy, especially early. The Thunder, which opens the season at 7 p.m. Wednesday at home against Sacramento, faces playoff teams in 10 of its first 15 home games. Last year’s disastrous 3-29 start included a 1-12 start at home. But the Thunder was 14-14 at home the final four months, sparking a 20-30 finish. Ford Center wins over playoff teams San Antonio, Portland, Dallas, Utah, Philadelphia and Detroit — and close calls against the Nuggets (twice), Suns, Hornets, Spurs and Rockets — were signs a young team played with more confidence at home. But to take the next step, some of those close calls need to be wins. Portland, a team often compared to OKC, needed three seasons to significantly improve its home record. When the Trail Blazers turned the corner, finishing 41-41 two years ago, they were bolstered by a 28-13 home record. New Orleans went through a similar transformation. The Hornets finished 24-17 at home both seasons they played in the Ford Center. Home improvement over the pre-Hurricane Katrina season allowed the Hornets to flirt with a .500 record. The following season, back home in New Orleans, the Hornets joined the playoff fraternity. Monitoring the Thunder’s home record will be easy and revealing. If the Thunder posts 21 to 25 home wins, it’s a sign a young team took a big step forward.