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Persistently low yields and growth have dogged efforts by UK defined benefit (DB) schemes to improve their funding position, a new survey by KPMG has shown.According to the consultancy’s 2016 Pensions Accounting Survey, sponsors are continuing to grapple with major balance-sheet deficits, having made little progress to plug the funding gap during 2015.The report’s lead author, Narayan Peralta, told IPE: “Accounting numbers are fairly stable at the moment, but the underlying position with cash outflows is starting to emerge.“It may not be a pretty picture unless a scheme has been quite well hedged against rate movements,” Peralta added. The survey looked at trends in best-estimate assumptions among around 250 of KPMG’s clients with UK defined-benefit schemes at 31 December 2015.The schemes featured in the study report under International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), UK and US generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) found broadly static assumptions and flat yields have offered little respite to pension schemes over the past year.Peralta said 2015 only saw a small increase in discount rates, and that investment returns were “fairly flat” across main asset classes.“The extent to which deficit contributions are being paid into a pension scheme, and in particular the extent to which these exceed interest cost on the liabilities, will have a big influence on the change in the pension balance sheet over the year,” Peralta added.One other key finding to emerge from the survey is the potential variance between accounting outcomes and funding valuations.Peralta expected deficits for companies who carried out a valuation in 2015 to be significantly higher than at the previous valuation cycle in 2012.“Between 5 April 2012 and 5 April 2015, 20-year gilt yields fell by around 1 percentage point, which in itself would increase a typical scheme’s liability measure by 20 percent for a gilts based discount rate.“So whilst the balance sheet may be fairly benign,” he added, “some corporates will be revealing significant funding deficits over the course of 2016 interim and year end reporting, as they complete 2015 valuation negotiations.”Meanwhile, the question of IFRIC 14, the IASB’s asset-ceiling guidance, continues to weigh heavily on UK DB sponsors.In June 2015, the IFRS Interpretations Committee issued an exposure draft proposing changes to the way sponsors account for trustee powers to vary benefits.Despite pausing the project while the board considered its future work on pensions accounting as part of its agenda consultation, the proposed changes have drawn interest.That interest spiked when lender Royal Bank of Scotland stunned the markets in January with the announcement that the change would “result in the accelerated recognition of £4.2bn (€5.3bn) of already committed future contributions in respect of past service.”RBS said the IFRC 14 ED had “provided additional clarity on the role of trustees’ rights in an assessment of the recoverability of a surplus in an employee pension fund.”The move followed the announcement in November by the UK financial reporting watchdog, the FRC, that it expected UK-listed companies to pay heed to the IFRIC 14 proposals in the run-up to the year’s annual reporting season.The move raised eyebrows among some in the advisory community who noted that the IFRS IC had yet to finalise the changes in its exposure draft.Many corporates last analysed their IFRIC 14 position in 2007/8 when the interpretation first emerged.Since then, auditor views have developed, while actions by the FRC and the Financial Reporting Review Panel have clarified that a recovery plan is a minimum funding commitment.Paralta said: “A lot of schemes will have had rule amendments in the meantime, which may be of no consequence, but still need to be considered as part of a fresh analysis. Clients may also have changed auditor.”,WebsitesWe are not responsible for the content of external sitesLink to ‘KPMG Pensions Accounting Survey’
With Liverpool poised to break a 30-year league title drought, Mane has been instrumental for the Reds, scoring 14 goals and providing nine assists in 27 Premier League appearances, which he has marked with match-winning impact on a number of occasions. Salah has also been outstanding, having found the back of the net 16 times in league games, with six assists to his name in 26 matches, with the Egyptian and the Senegalese forwards both playing key roles Jurgen Klopp’s title-chasing side. Although Arsenal and Gabon captain Pierre Emerick Aubameyang is currently the second on the Premier League top goal-scorer list with 17 strikes and one assist, Vega has singled out Mane for praise, while also acknowledging Salah’s exploits. “Sadio Mane without a doubt,” Vega told Goal when asked about the continent’s best player at the moment.Advertisement Former Tottenham Hotspur defender, Ramon Vega, has picked Liverpool star Sadio Mane as the best African player in the Premier League this season, while also giving special mention to his teammate Mohamed Salah. “I think he deserves to be nominated because he is going to potentially win for Liverpool the league [title] this season. And of course his great friend Mohamed Salah as well, I think between both of them this year especially one to be impressed about African players. “And also great export for African football to be honest. We know Africa has great players but these two, of course, showing again that the quality is there and they can do it in big teams like Liverpool. “So I will select these two in terms of my, let’s say, favourite African players at the moment this season.” read also:Murphy: Klopp needs Salah, Mane cover for AFCON Salah was an unused substitute against Everton due to injury but is expected to be back against Palace and returning with a top performance could set the tone for a glorious finish to the season. “[Mo] trained yesterday [Monday] completely normal, he will train today completely normal, I would guess and then he is available. What I make with the line-up, you have to wait until tomorrow [Wednesday],” Klopp told the club website ahead of the Palace fixture. FacebookTwitterWhatsAppEmail分享 Loading… Promoted ContentBest & Worst Celebrity Endorsed Games Ever Made10 Risky Jobs Some Women DoA Hurricane Can Be As Powerful As 10 Atomic BombsCouples Who Celebrated Their Union In A Unique, Unforgettable WayBirds Enjoy Living In A Gallery Space Created For ThemPortuguese Street Artist Creates Hyper-Realistic 3D Graffiti14 Hilarious Comics Made By Women You Need To Follow Right NowThe Highest Paid Football Players In The WorldTop 7 Best Car Manufacturers Of All TimeTop 10 Most Romantic Nations In The World9 Facts You Should Know Before Getting A TattooWhat Happens When You Eat Eggs Every Single Day?
Paul Lambert paid the price for Aston Villa’s plunge into the Premier League relegation zone when he was sacked on Wednesday. Villa chiefs had maintained during an increasingly tortuous campaign that Lambert retained their full backing but they were swift to act after Tuesday’s defeat at Hull. Lambert signed a contract extension after a good start to the season in September but Villa’s form quickly deteriorated and included a dismal run of 659 minutes without a top-flight goal. Press Association The newspaper added: “No progress has been made under Lambert. In fact, this once mighty club is now staring relegation in the face.” Villa’s drop down the table went hand-in-hand with a chronic lack of attacking threat and a goal drought which finally ended in a 2-1 defeat to Chelsea earlier this month. But any hopes Jores Okore’s goal could spark a change in fortunes were shattered by Tuesday night’s 2-0 defeat at the KC Stadium. Former Tottenham boss Tim Sherwood, current Real Madrid assistant Paul Clement and United States head coach Jurgen Klinsmann have already been installed among the bookmakers’ favourites to replace Lambert, as owner Randy Lerner begins the search for a new boss. Former Villa captain Peter Withe described Lambert’s departure as “inevitable” after their latest defeat – and even offered to assist the club for free in a bid to retain their Premier League status. Withe, who scored Villa’s winner in the 1982 European Cup final against Bayern Munich, subsequently enjoyed a varied career in management including spells with Wimbledon, Thailand and Indonesia. Discussing Lambert’s departure, Withe told BBC Radio Five Live: “I think it was inevitable quite frankly with the way the results were going and also not scoring goals. “I’m sure they haven’t done this on a whim and I’m sure they have got people in mind. I think the most important thing is they get someone in who is right until the end of the season. “I’ve said I will help them for nothing. I think they’ve got to get someone who has a feel for the club and can bring the fans back and also just inspire the players a little bit. I think someone who’s got that feel for the football club can do that.” It is understood that Lambert was dismissed, rather than departing by mutual consent, and will receive a pay-off amounting to one year’s salary. He faced increasing signs of unrest from supporters while the local Birmingham Mail launched a campaign calling for his removal a matter of hours before the club announced his departure. A statement on the club’s official website said: “Aston Villa Football Club has parted company this evening with manager Paul Lambert. “First-team coach Scott Marshall and goalkeeping coach Andy Marshall will continue to prepare the squad for Sunday’s FA Cup tie with Leicester City at Villa Park. “The club would also like to place on record its thanks to Paul and take this opportunity to wish him every success in the future. “The club will announce a new manager in due course. There will be no further comment from the club at this stage.” The 45-year-old replaced fellow Scot Alex McLeish in June 2012 but struggled to win over supporters who were slow to warm to what many perceived as a negative style of play. The 2-0 loss at Hull was clearly the last straw, with the Birmingham Mail declaring: “Paul Lambert is not the man to save this club from relegation and the long-term damage that disaster will bring.”
Press Association Dimitri Seluk, Toure’s controversial Ukrainian representative, has returned to the fore with two forthright interviews in the past week that have cast doubt over his client’s future. Among his remarks he has referred to Pellegrini as “a good coach, but a weak manager”, criticised other executives at the club and claimed he has received offers for midfielder Toure. “We have a project here, every year we are trying to improve. “Maybe you cannot win titles every year but I think the project of the club is to improve the squad, to improve as a club so there are a lot of important things and I think it is an important challenge.” This season Toure has fallen below the high standards he set for himself as the dynamic driving force of City’s midfield in the title successes on 2012 and 2014. The campaign began badly, starting soon after the death of his brother Ibrahim and was interrupted by the African Nations Cup. But Toure will again captain the side against Aston Villa on Saturday in the absence of Vincent Kompany and Pellegrini retains faith in the Ivorian’s ability. He said: “He is always leading the other players, they trust a lot in him. “All of us want to see the best Yaya in every game – but that’s impossible for him. He had a very special season at the beginning with personal problems, then the African Nations. But we all – players, manager – trust in him.” Pellegrini has also confirmed the full squad, including those likely to be involved in the Copa America, will be expected to travel on the club’s post-season tour of North America. City are to play a friendly at Toronto FC on May 27 – three days after their final Premier League game – and another fixture in the United States could be arranged. The likes of Sergio Aguero, Martin Demichelis, Pablo Zabaleta and Fernandinho could then be involved at the Copa America in Chile just over two weeks later. The tournament begins on June 11, 15 days after the Toronto game, although Argentina and Brazil – the countries City could supply players for – do not feature until June 13 and 14 respectively. Countries have a right to call up players two weeks before games. Pellegrini said: “The complete squad will travel. They have to rest but it will be after they finish the post-season tour.” Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini insists the recurring outspoken comments of Yaya Toure’s agent are not a problem that will affect the club. Amid that Toure has also given an interview in which he has said he is open to “new challenges”, comments which have been interpreted as suggesting he is considering a move. The situation – and sense that 31-year-old Toure could be unsettled – is not unfamiliar. Two years ago Seluk claimed Toure would quit City if a new contract was not delivered by a certain date – a deadline which actually passed before any deal was signed – and last summer his claims about the player’s dissatisfaction sparked the notorious birthday cake row. A fresh Toure saga is not something City would welcome but Pellegrini believes it can be dealt with. He said: “In a club, especially a big club, you have a problem every day. You always have problems, you have to manage them in the best way you can. “It’s impossible to tell every agent of the 22 players what they must say and not say. It’s important that everyone can say what they want and it’s important to know here inside the club what we want.” Toure, reputedly City’s highest earner on £220,000 per week, has remained at the Etihad Stadium despite all the past issues and Pellegrini does not see why that should change. He said: “Maybe the ‘new challenge’ is at City also. “There are a lot of different places you can have it but City also is a challenge and I am sure Yaya is very happy here.
NEW YORK: The organisers of the US Open said, on Friday, they could have better communicated with wheelchair athletes before announcing they would not be part of this year’s scaled-down event in New York and are now rethinking their decision.The United States Tennis Association (USTA) held a call with wheelchair tennis leadership during which they stated they should have worked in a ‘collaborative manner’ with wheelchair athletes when developing the plan for the US Open. “The USTA also committed to working with the players and the ITF (International Tennis Federation) to explore a number of potential scenarios for the wheelchair competition,” the governing body for the sport in the US said in a statement. “The USTA expects to gather player feedback on their perspective and work with the ITF to finalize an approach to the 2020 US Open Wheelchair Competition.” Australian Paralympic tennis champion Dylan Alcott led a chorus of backlash after plans revealed on Wednesday for this year’s US Open did not include a wheelchair competition, one of several changes to help stem the spread of COVID-19. Agencies Also Watch: #NewsMakers: Let’s Talk Depression
highlights For all the Latest Sports News News, Tennis News News, Download News Nation Android and iOS Mobile Apps. New Delhi: Amid rising tensions with Pakistan, India’s national tennis association is likely to approach the International Tennis Federation, seeking a neutral venue for next month’s Davis Cup tie in Islamabad and the host federation says it will abide by the ITF’s ruling. India’s two-day tie against Pakistan is scheduled to begin in the Pakistan capital on September 14. The Indian government revoked provisions of Article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir, taking away the state’s special status and in retaliation Pakistan on Wednesday downgraded diplomatic ties with India. Pakistan on Thursday stopped the Samjhauta Express at the Wagah border citing security concerns, following which an Indian crew escorted the train to Attari on the Indian side. AITA Secretary General Hironmoy Chatterjee told PTI that in the current scenario, the security of the Indian contingent remains a major concern and they are contemplating approaching ITF to provide a neutral venue for the tie. “It might affect the Davis Cup tie. It’s too early to say but what I intend to do is to wait for one or two days to see what turn the situation takes. Then we will ask ITF (International Tennis Federation) to look into the situation and take a call. And if required, consider a neutral venue,” Chatterjee said. “If they (Pakistan) don’t issue visas, how do we go to Pakistan? They might not issue the visas. And if they give visas, will they be able to give us proper security so that we feel comfortable?” he elaborated on the many predicaments that AITA is dealing with right now. Pakistan Tennis Federation President Salim Saifullah Khan admitted that tension has escalated and said that the PTF will follow whatever the ITF suggests. “Islamabad is still safe. The tension has definitely escalated but it can de-escalate as well. For us also the safety and security of the players are paramount. Winning or losing does not matter, safety is most important,” Salim told PTI. “It’s too early to say that it’s time to shift the tie to a neutral venue. But if ITF feels that it is better to shift the tie, we have to follow the instruction of the parent body. But as of now, I don’t see any reason to shift the venue,” he added. No Indian Davis Cup team has travelled to Pakistan since 1964 and bilateral cricket ties between the two countries have been dormant since the 2008 terror attack in Mumbai. Chatterjee said they will also leave the decision on the ITF. “Pakistan has played a lot of ties at neutral venues. So we will definitely approach the ITF for a neutral venue because the situation is very sensitive at the moment. They have to take a call. “But we will not say that we will not go to Pakistan. I don’t want to take that road, I don’t want the team to be penalised,” added the AITA official. What if the ITF refuses to shift the tie, Chatterjee said, “Security parameters are set by the ITF, not us. In case of any mishap, the responsibility will be with the ITF. That’s why they have to look into it in a proper manner.” Chatterjee said in the current scenario, they will also seek the central government’s view. “The relations with AITA and Pakistan Tennis Federation are very cordial but it’s an issue between two countries. We will wait and then approach both the ITF and our government,” he said. Sports Ministry has not raised any objection to the team travelling to Pakistan. It had also asserted that AITA did not need either the Home Ministry or the Ministry of External Affairs’ approval to send players to Pakistan. “No permission or sanction is needed for visiting a foreign country or playing in any place outside, ” Sports Secretary Radhey Shyam Julaniya reiterated on Thursday. When Hong Kong had refused to travel to Pakistan in 2017 for the Group II semifinals, their federation was fined USD 10,000 by the ITF, which also demoted the team to a lower Group in Asia/Ocean zone. If India forfeits the tie, the team will be left to fight it out in Group II next year and make its way up in the following years. There are four groups in the Asia/Oceania zone, with I being the highest and IV the lowest. However, if visas are not granted to the Indian players and officials, then the ITF cannot hold AITA responsible for the tie not going ahead and the PTF will be answerable for such a situation. No Indian Davis Cup team has travelled to Pakistan since 1964.The Indian government revoked provisions of Article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir.Hong Kong had refused to travel to Pakistan in 2017 for the Group II semifinals.
In-depth: Andy Murray looked in truly sublime form as he claimed the Queen’s title for a fourth time. Is he set for a second Wimbledon victory?WHAT HAPPENED Britain’s Andy Murray was in irresistible form as he dispatched first Viktor Troicki and then Kevin Anderson in the space of a few hours on Sunday to win the ATP Queen’s Club tournament.Murray was relentless, manoeuvring his opponents around the court with ease, as he sent out an ominous warning to the likes of Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer ahead of Wimbledon, which starts a week on Monday.It was Murray’s fourth triumph in the Wimbledon curtain-raiser – and the manner in which he prevailed suggested that he has every chance of following a win at Queen’s with another at SW19, exactly as he did in 2013.Fans are already getting excited at the prospect of a second British win at Wimbledon. But with defending champion Novak Djokovic and seven-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer both in form as well, there will be a long road ahead for the Scot. MURRAY’S VIEW “I feel like I have improved [since winning in 2013],” said Murray. “You know, sport and life and everything moves on. If you don’t continue to improve and get better, there is going to be people that will take your spot… “Physically I’m definitely in a better place than I was then. Obviously I was having problems with my back around that time… “I feel like I’m using my variety very well just now, something that maybe I wasn’t the last couple of years. That’s been good for me,” Murray added. “It’s been a really good start, but, you know, it’s a long way to go before Wimbledon even starts, and then all sorts of things can happen during slams…”Both matches today were good performances and I played a little bit better as the week went on,” Murray added “It’s been a great week for me and hopefully I can continue that form through to Wimbledon. “I’m playing better than in , I feel. But it’s extremely difficult to win these events when everyone is improving all the time. “You are playing against some of the greatest players that have ever played so you need to keep working hard and I still feel there are things I can improve on.”DREAM START THAT BECAME NIGHTMARE SEASON… BUT NOW A DREAM AGAIN? Murray was in great form at the start of the season as he reached the final of the Australian Open in January. But a miserable defeat at the hands of Djokovic – with the Serb’s antics clearly upsetting Murray – took the wind out of his sails, and he struggled over the next few weeks.Since then, however, he has lost just three matches – all of them to Djokovic. And getting married to long-term girlfriend Kim Sears appears to have boosted him further: returning to action a few weeks later on his least-favourite surface, Murray won the first two clay court titles of his career – and made it all the way to the semi-finals of the French Open. More importantly, once in the last four at Roland Garros he produced some stunning tennis to recover from a two-set deficit against Djokovic, albeit to crumble in the final set. On grass, however, Murray would expect to have the edge should the encounter be similarly hard-fought. – THE CHALLENGERSDjokovic has, as usual, not played a grass court warm-up tournament this season – an unusual tactic, but one which he has used successfully in the past ahead of his Wimbledon titles in 2011 and 2014. And given that he has been head-and-shoulders above the rest of the world for most of the season, he will head to Wimbledon as the hot favourite – and indeed is quoted around evens by most bookies. Murray, for comparison purposes, is second favourite at 5-2. Yet there are chinks in his armour, as Stan Wawrinka showed in stunning style in beating the Serb at the French Open. Will that loss cause Djokovic to doubt himself if he ends up in a tight match? Roger Federer’s best days are clearly long behind him now – yet he is still the world number two, well ahead of Murray on points, and he barely broke a sweat in winning the ATP Halle grass tournament this week. If Federer has one more major in him, there is little doubt that it will come at Wimbledon where his combination of balletic grace and deft shotmaking always seem particularly well-suited.THE ONE BIG PROBLEM The Wimbledon draw means that if Federer and Djokovic are playing at their normal SW19 standard, Murray will have to beat both men, back-to-back, to lift the title since one will come in the semi-final and the other in the final. It’s nothing he hasn’t done before at Wimbledon – albeit he pulled off the feat at the Olympics rather than the All England Championships – but it turns a tough task into a Herculean one.–
The Golden State Warriors don’t like the Clippers. Neither do the Dallas Mavericks. Now count the Sacramento Kings among those teams the Clippers seem to rub the wrong way.At least in the mind of their center, DeMarcus Cousins, who after the Clippers beat the Kings on Wednesday in a season opener in Sacramento told reporters, “I hate ‘em. Honestly, I do. I hate ‘em.”Clippers forward Josh Smith doesn’t have a problem with that.“I feel like an opponent is not supposed to like another opponent, you know what I’m saying?” Smith said before the Clippers defeated the Kings 114-109 in a Saturday night rematch before 19,060 at Staples Center. “So I think we should come out and keep giving them reasons not to like us.” Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error The Clippers are off to a 3-0 start, so they probably did just that. Blake Griffin again led the way with 37 points on 13-of-22 shooting. He also had nine rebounds, six assists and two steals.For a team with lofty expectations, Griffin agreed it was vital for the Clippers to get off to a good start.“It’s important,” he said. “We always kind of talk about those games you miss. Those games last year, if we had won one more game, it would have put us in second place (in the Western Conference) and that means homecourt through the first two rounds. Not to say that everything (wouldn’t) have gone the same way, but we would have been playing a Game 7 at home.”Griffin was speaking of the Western Conference semifinals. The Clippers blew Game 6 at home and lost Game 7 at Houston.Not that it should have been so difficult to dispatch the Kings in this one because Cousins — Sacramento’s best player — did not play in the second half because of a strained Achilles. The Clippers trailed by as many as 12 points (39-27) with 8:15 left in the second quarter. They then outscored the Kings 32-16 to take a 59-55 lead at halftime. When the Clippers took an 80-68 lead in the third quarter, with Cousins out, it appeared a blowout might be in the offing.Not quite. Sacramento came back to take a 96-95 lead with 6:13 to play before the Clippers regrouped and took the win.J.J. Redick’s two free throws with 8.6 seconds to play sealed the Kings’ fate.Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who spent the day at the funeral of Flip Saunders — as did Sacramento coach George Karl — was asked if perhaps his team took its collective foot off the gas when it got the 12-point lead, knowing Cousins was out for the game.“I just didn’t think we played well,” he said. “Honestly, I thought the second unit played pretty badly all game. It’s amazing. It’s just going to take time (with the second unit). Last game, they were phenomenal. Tonight, they weren’t very good.“I thought the whole game lacked energy.”The bench scored just 15 points on 5-of-20 shooting.J.J. Redick contributed 23 points, Chris Paul had 17 points and 11 assists, and DeAndre Jordan scored 15 points, grabbed 18 rebounds and blocked seven shots. Jamal Crawford scored 10 points off the bench, and Lance Stephenson had seven points and four assists.Stephenson, a ball of fire on the court, got two of his points off a vicious 25-foot baseline drive and dunk. He then screamed his own approval.Redick agreed the Clippers were a bit flat, but he also made a good point.“There wasn’t a great cohesive energy to our team tonight,” Redick said. “Some guys certainly had good energy. You can’t really say no one did, or we wouldn’t have won the game.”Paul had five of the team’s 17 turnovers. He didn’t like that one bit.“I didn’t bring the energy I could have,” he said. “I think the toughest part of the night was some of those turnovers I had down the stretch. They were terrible.”Cousins finished with 13 points and nine rebounds in his half of play. Rajon Rondo led the Kings (1-2) with 21 points and Rudy Gay scored 20.Rondo was philosophical about the setback.“We stayed with it,” he said. “We fought, but it’s a loss. You have to learn from it, watch some film and continue to grow.” The Clippers shot 51.3 percent from the field, but just 23.5 percent (4 of 17) from 3-point range. The Kings shot 42.6 percent.
SCNG beat reporters Kyle Goon and Mirjam Swanson have been covering both teams since before those seismic roster changes, and they’ve spent the months since writing about a variety of topics, giving our readers a chance to get to know some of the personalities who will take center stage this season, and the challenges both sides might face along the way.Before that first jump ball is tossed, here’s another chance to catch up on some of what you might have missed:LAKERS• United with the teammate they both publicly wished for, LeBron James and Anthony Davis are expected to have each other’s backs as Lakers teammates, sharing the workload while holding each other accountable.• Father Time, as the saying goes, is undefeated. The question for LeBron James – and for a Lakers franchise hoping his championship window is still open – is how long can he stave off the inevitable? Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error The dress rehearsals are over. Tuesday night, one of the most anticipated seasons in recent NBA history tips off, and the Lakers and Clippers, intracity rivals who underwent headline-grabbing offseason changes, find themselves on the short list of contenders for the 2019-20 championship going into their season opener at Staples Center.Neither side will be at full strength on Tuesday, the Clippers without All-Star forward Paul George and the Lakers without rising young star Kyle Kuzma, but it’s still a game that should give each side an early indication of how they might measure up and how they might go about countering certain matchups.Having landed two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and George in one stunning July night, the Clippers open the season as the prohibitive favorite to win their first league title, both according to oddsmakers in Las Vegas and the annual poll of NBA general managers. When George returns, they’ll become a team with frightening potential on defense, especially on the perimeter.The Lakers got four-time league MVP LeBron James the elite running mate he wanted, shipping away a slew of players and draft picks to unite him with big man Anthony Davis amid the hope that their mutual desire to play together results in unbeatable chemistry on the court. Even if it takes them some time to gel, a refreshed James knows it’s all about positioning themselves to be at their best in April, May and June. AROUND THE LEAGUESTACKED OUT WEST: Beyond the Lakers and Clippers, Houston reunited James Harden with Russell Westbrook. Denver and Utah bring back strong cores, Portland might have the league’s best backcourt and Golden State doesn’t sound ready to go away, even if Klay Thompson is now expected to miss the entire season. Here’s a team-by-team preview of the Western Conference.TWO-TEAM RACE IN EAST? Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks were a couple wins from beating Toronto. The Philadelphia 76ers were perhaps a couple bounces from doing it one round earlier. Neither team was good enough to finish the job last season, but both think this is their time after Leonard returned to the Western Conference. They look like the favorites to represent the East in the NBA Finals – where they might have to deal with Leonard again. Here’s a team-by-team preview of the Eastern Conference.CRACKING DOWN ON FAN BEHAVIOR: After high-profile incidents involving Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins, Kyle Lowry and others last season – including ones involving racist taunts – zero tolerance for abusive or hateful behavior is now to become the NBA’s policy going forward. The league is changing and toughening its code of conduct for fans, especially putting those in closest proximity to the players and the court on alert that anything over the line will lead to ejections and possibly more. • How Coach Frank Vogel’s “sabbatical” year spent visiting college and NBA coaches around the nation rejuvenated him for the Lakers job• Entering his third season, ambitious young Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma has switched agencies, signed a shoe deal and is looking out for additional business opportunities.• With both teams in demand for national TV appearances, the NBA and Staples Center had a tougher time than ever mapping out the schedules for the Lakers and Clippers• LeBron James, Anthony Davis thought they might lure Kawhi Leonard to the Lakers• Lakers play down rivalry angles going into opener against Clippers• In his second stint with the Lakers, Dwight Howard promises more accountability• Veteran guard Avery Bradley is eager to prove himself, ready to “show the world that I’m the best perimeter defender in the NBA.”• LeBron James and the Lakers have been doing their best to make Anthony Davis feel comfortable and in control going into a critical season• The Lakers have plenty of competition in their guard rotation• Anthony Davis, Lakers believe having multiple shot-blockers will aid their identity• A closer look at the Lakers’ projected roster, including two-way contract playersCLIPPERS• In Kawhi Leonard, the Clippers have added a self-made superstar who keeps getting better• Can the Clippers seize their moment and challenge the Lakers for L.A.’s basketball soul?• The Lakers and Clippers in contention at the same time has the eyes of the league on L.A.• Against the Clippers’ defense this season, the drive to Staples Center might be the easy part• Is there any reason to doubt, L.A.’s clearly a basketball town?• Given their decades of futility and mismanagement, it’s hard for some to fathom … the Clippers favored to win a championship?• When three-time NBA Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams speaks, his words carry weight• Clippers hope a “brotherhood” built through group texts, fishing trips and paintball outings will prepare them for whatever adversity comes their way• Clippers rookie Terance Mann is soaking up his time around Kawhi Leonard, Paul George• Patrick Beverley wants you to know: Kawhi Leonard is cool but he’s “not quiet”• The Clippers plan to retain the gritty team persona that helped attract a pair of All-Stars• Patrick Beverley is the face of a new Clippers ticket initiative that will give between 50 and 200 fans an opportunity to purchase $10 tickets for all 41 of the team’s home games this season.• A closer look at the Clippers’ projected roster, including two-way contract players