With LeBron James sitting out the playoffs for the first time in as long as anyone can remember, the NBA has a problem on its hands: Which team are they going to showcase to a national audience to prevent folks from spending their weekends watching The Masters?
That series turns out to be the Los Angeles Clippers against the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors, with ABC showcasing that series with a Saturday night telecast of Game 1 and a Sunday afternoon (April 21) showcase of Game 4.
And the Clippers have no chance, correct?
That is what the sportsbooks are predicting, with the Clippers listed as 55/1 underdogs to win the best-of-seven series at DraftKings Sportsbook … or to put it another way, the Warriors being listed as -20000 (200/1) to advance to the second round.
Well, please pardon the oppositional nature of this column … because there is a school of thought that the Warriors are vulnerable for a number of reasons:
- Coach Steve Kerr and Draymond Green have endured a great deal of friction this season.
- Kevin Durant’s impending free agency has been a dark cloud hanging over the team the entire season.
- Steph Curry has a foot injury that is being described as “minor” … but no injury below either of Curry’s knees is ever really “minor.”
Yes, the Warriors won the season series 3-1, including a 27-point beatdown four days ago in which Golden State clinched the No. 1 seed in the West and outscored the Clippers 42-18 in the third quarter to turn the game into a runaway.
And that is bound to happen again in Games 1, 2, 3 and 4, correct?
Well … let’s take a closer look at the Clippers.
Don’t dismiss them
First and foremost, the Clippers turned over their roster at the trade deadline when they dealt Tobias Harris to the Philadelphia 76ers and brought in rookie Landry Shamet, along with another trade in which they acquired center Ivica Zubac from the Los Angeles Lakers.
“The chemistry was instant,” said Danilo Gallinari … a comment that was echoed by Doc Rivers in a late-season visit to Madison Square Garden at which he marveled at the way his youth-laden roster had become a solid defensive team with a bunch of players in their early 20s who were great listeners when it came to receiving tutelage from the coaching staff and Sixth Man of the Year shoo-in Lou Williams.
A top-five finish in Sixth Man of the Year voting is expected for Montrezl Harrell, who will tag team with Zubac to defend DeMarcus Cousins as Boogie he plays playoff basketball with the Warriors for the first time.
“It’s a whole new season,” coach Doc Rivers said. “It’s time to get going.”
Something else to keep in mind: When Game 1 of the NBA Finals was played last season, the Warriors were prohibitive favorites in Game 1 but might have lost if J.R. Smith had not had his moment of cranial flatulence, leading to an excruciating loss that prompted LeBron James to take out his anger on an Oracle Center blackboard.
You never know what to expect in a Game 1, so keep that in mind when considering the relative merits of the Clippers being listed as a 13-point underdog for Saturday opener.
Shooting star needs to shine
The key player in the series for Los Angeles will be Williams, who has not had a single-digit scoring game since Dec. 6 — a run of 47 consecutive games in double figures.
The 15-year veteran will be appearing in the playoffs for the eighth time (with no starts), and for the Clippers to have any chance of pulling off the unimaginable Williams will have to improve on his career postseason shooting percentages of 40.5 overall and 32 percent from 3-point range.
Also, the Clippers are a very young team — usually a sign of a team that needs to learn how to absorb losses rather than figuring out ways to produce victories. The task of focusing on one game at a time will fall upon coach Doc Rivers, who has coached 161 postseason games during his 20 seasons holding a clipboard.
But Rivers does have one of the best defensive guards in the NBA at his disposal in Patrick Beverley, who will likely draw the defensive assignment on Curry.
“Should we take that personal that the Warriors are the favorite?” Rivers said. “The [Clippers] have a chip anyway. … My guess is in the next 48 hours someone’s going to write something or say something that will piss Pat off, and he’ll tell everybody and it will work out for us.”
Rivers played his regular group in the season finale against Utah and watched as they picked up right where they left off in March, when the Clippers (48-34) went an NBA-best 13-2.
Win or lose, the Clips are value
Of course, March is in everyone’s rearview mirror. And because memories are short, everyone is sort of concentrating on how Houston may be the team to beat in the West because of the way they finished the regular season.
But remember, wagering opportunities that make sense — especially in terms of long odds — are few and far between. The Clippers may or may not be one of them …. that is for the reader to decide.
But discount them at your own peril. They are one of the stronger No. 8 seed to come along in quite some time.
Tax Day is right around the corner, and sports wagering winnings should be part of a bettor’s annual filing.
Nathan Rigley, a lead tax research analyst at H&R Block, recently spoke with TheLines.com to offer advice for bettors making preparations for 2018 and beyond.
The first thing to realize is that any winnings are taxable and bettors should include it on a tax return.
“Just because a taxpayer doesn’t receive a tax form, (it) does not make the winnings tax-free,” he said. “Taxpayers still have a responsibility to report their prize on their tax return as ‘other income.’”
Don’t neglect to report it
Don’t be caught unaware. No matter the amount, gambling winnings are taxable. Those winning a substantial amount are likely to receive a tax form, and the IRS will also receive that form.
“Failing to report the prize as income is the surest way to get audited,” Rigley said.
That could certainly be uncomfortable and cause the type of scrutiny most bettors would like to avoid.
Record keeping 101
Serious bettors must not only be savvy with betting lines, but also with record keeping. The IRS advises gamblers to keep an accurate diary or record to substantiate wins and losses on a tax return.
Plan to keep track. A little extra work can pay big dividends in the long run. Rigley recommends bettors include the following in their records:
- The date and type of each wager.
- The name and location of the bet.
- The names of other people with the bettor at the betting establishment.
- The amount won or lost.
Bettors should also keep verifiable documentation of losses, which include:
- Wagering tickets
- Canceled checks
- Credit card records
Mobile wagering makes keeping track of wagers much easier. Players should have easy access to bets made throughout the year. That helps in reporting overall wagering income.
Track those wins and losses
Bettors should keep track of their winnings, but also their losses. If they won big and show a profit for the year, they can offset winnings with losses to help lower a tax burden.
Only winners can deduct losses, and the full amount of winnings and losses must be reported when filing. However, Rigley notes that gamblers may deduct losses, but only by as much as they report in winnings.
For example, suppose a taxpayer entered two betting pools: One at the office and one among friends. Both had a $10 entry fee, and the player won $100 from the office pool. The bettor should report $90 in winnings, deducting the $10 fee.
For itemizing, the entry fee from the losing pool and other gambling losses could be taken as an itemized deduction. That would be capped, however, at a maximum of the amount won being reported, in this case, $90.
Do the new tax laws have any impact?
Taxpayers will notice some changes when filing this year. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act changed many aspects regarding itemized deductions. That includes the elimination of some deductions that were subject to a 2% floor of adjusted gross income.
“This has been impactful for many taxpayers,” Rigley said. “Luckily, the deduction for gambling losses, though a miscellaneous deduction, was not subject to this floor.”
This is advantageous to gamblers. They can continue to claim gambling losses as an itemized deduction to the extent of their gambling income.
Sports betting as a full-time job
The majority of bettors may fall into the recreational or hobby group. But those who bet professionally as their sole means of earning a living have different benefits and requirements.
These bettors would need to file as a business with a Schedule C form.
Filing as a business allows deducting expenses, but also subjects them to self-employment tax and possibly quarterly estimated payments. It’s as if that bettor runs his or her business and files accordingly.
The new tax laws have had some changes on this aspect, however. Bettors can no longer deduct non-wagering business expenses in excess of net wagering income. Thus, reporting a loss as a gambler isn’t possible.
Planning for next year
The new sports betting landscape has brought many more into the wagering ecosystem. Players new to betting may want to start planning for filing their 2019 taxes.
Rigley strongly advises maintaining detailed gambling records.
“The foundation of any tax return is one’s records,” he said. “In order to ensure the best outcome on the tax return, you have to make sure you can back up anything reported on your return, including the reporting of inherently personal activities like gambling.”
And if you do make a nice score, Rigley suggests making that first check to the tax man.
Set aside an estimated payment on taxes you’ll owe on those winnings.
“This is essentially a deposit toward your tax liability,” he said. “The reason we suggest this is that it helps to avoid any underpayment penalties for failing to deposit enough taxes throughout the year. And, psychologically, it seems easier to write that check when the income is new rather than be hit with the balance due down the road when the return is filed.”
Here’s hoping that big win comes, though bettors should plan on paying Uncle Sam.