Steinmetz: Some parting shots to end the quarter

Impressions at the end of a quarter (of the NBA season):

» If you’re a Warriors fan, you’re always keeping your eye on the New Orleans Hornets and Los Angeles Lakers, for sure. But maybe it’s time to start paying attention to the Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets, that small pair of teams not considered elite but thought of as better than No. 8 seeds.

» Watching Steve Francis handle the point guard duties in Houston can sure make you appreciate the relative value of Rafer Alston. Either way, unless the Rockets get better at that position, they’re not going anywhere.

» The Chicago Bulls are better than they have shown, but seem poised to try to make a major move. They’ve got a good group of nice, solid players, but have no superstar to speak of. And that’s not changing anytime soon. It’s not difficult to predict a two-for-oneor three-for-one trade in their future.

» The Miami Heat should be OK, as there were plenty of good signs on their recent West Coast road trip. Dwyane Wade is getting healthier by the game and they’re figuring out how to move forward without a dominant Shaquille O’Neal.

The Heat were one blown fourth-quarter lead (against the Warriors) away from a very respectable 3-3 record on a brutal six-game Western Conference road trip.

» The Boston Celtics are heading toward a 60-plus-win season, but until they come out West and do some damage, the jury on them will be out. And I’m still saying that if it comes down to the Celtics against Detroit, the Pistons get the edge because they have significantly more playoff experience.

Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen form a dynamic trio, but their playoff résumés are somewhat thin. And that matters come late May.

» As embarrassing as the New York Knicks’ situation has become, there’s a franchise in more trouble: the Minnesota Timberwolves.

What Kevin McHale has done to that team is quite remarkable — and not in a good way. In 2004, the Timberwolves were in the Western Conference finals. Three years later, they are the worst team in the league, and there is no way they’re getting much better anytime soon.

» We’re still only 21 games in, but Mike Dunleavy’s play in Indiana has to be acknowledged. He’s having a nice season and appears to be a different player than he was here.

As for Troy Murphy … it’s been a season of injury and inconsistency, which unfortunately seems to be becoming the norm.

» Jason Richardson, another former Warrior, is having a troubling season in Charlotte. He’s averaging just 16.9 points per game and shooting 40 percent from the floor. It’s also pretty scary that 40 percent of his field-goal attempts are 3-pointers. Oh, and he’s at 60 percent from the line.

Matt Steinmetz is the NBA insider for Warriors telecasts on Fox Sports Net.

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