Looking To The Future

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Timberwolves guard Wes Johnson has no illusions about where the Oklahoma City Thunder sit in the Western Conference. Though they sport a youthful roster, the Thunder have the talent in place to be a force in the West for years to come.

It's a benchmark the Wolves hope they’re working toward.

"Those guys are a step ahead of us in what we want to strive for," Johnson said. "I know they had a lot of success in the last couple of years. That's what we're looking forward to."

The Wolves will host Oklahoma City on Monday night in the team's regular season opener at Target Center, and in this matchup of youthful rosters Minnesota will get an early chance to measure just how ready they are for the shortened 2011-12 season.

In the Thunder the Wolves likely see a bit of themselves, a young squad hoping to take the necessary steps to climb the divisional and conference standings. It was three years ago that Oklahoma City moved from Seattle, and the squad struggled to a 23-59 record. The next season, the Thunder reached the playoffs as the eighth seed, and last year they reached the Western Conference Finals.

It's been a steady climb, led by the development of forward Kevin Durant into an elite scorer. Russell Westbrook has grown into the point guard position, and veteran additions like Kendrick Perkins helped solidify the team's presence down low.

Durant’s 27.7 points per game last year landed him the NBA’s scoring title, and overall the Thunder have increased their points per game from 97.0 in 2008-09 to 104.8 last season. Not only did they win at home—Oklahoma City went 30-11 at Chesapeake Energy Center last year—but they also posted a 25-16 road record.

"They've grown as an organization and as a team," guard Wayne Ellington said. "Now they're a contender in the playoffs. Of course, that's exactly how we want to go and how we want to see our future—a team that gets better and better and becomes contenders."

Minnesota is working toward that point. The Wolves finished with 15 and 17 wins over the past two years, respectively, but with a new coaching staff and the addition of several playmakers in the front and back courts, there is a new level of excitement surrounding Target Center this winter.

It starts with defense, something the Wolves have continued to stress throughout their preseason workouts. The Wolves gave up the most points per game last year, surrendering 107.8 per night.

Adelman said when his coaching staff began analyzing the Timberwolves’ performance last season, defense continuously became the point of emphasis. Now, with the Wolves eying to climb in the standings this winter, they’ll get a chance to make a defensive statement against one of the league’s top scoring clubs.

If they succeed, it could be a big confidence boost for a young team on the rise.

"For us, our first game of the new season, it's really setting a presence that it's tough to win in our place," guard Luke Ridnour said. "We've got to really come at them."

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