Top six games to watch in NBL23

The road to NBL23 opening night is officially locked in.

After two seasons of uncertainty, the NBL calendar returns to its usual slot, with a double-header to open the season on October 1.

"We are thrilled to be back where we belong on the sports' calendar and playing through the summer months, through to March next year," NBL Commissioner Jeremy Loeliger said via a league release.

"After two interrupted seasons, we are excited to provide fans with a full schedule so they can confidently plan for the year and attend and watch as many games as possible."

Once again, every game will be live on ESPN and Kayo.

As rivalries resume and playoff spots become increasingly difficult, here are six games you won't want to miss in the first portion of the season up to the historic Christmas day matchup between the Sydney Kings and Melbourne United.

Illawarra Hawks vs. Sydney Kings - October 1, WIN Entertainment Centre, 8:00 p.m. (AEDT)

Opening night is always a treat, but it's the nightcap that is clearly the spiciest of the NBL23 docket.

Illawarra and Sydney don't like each other, that much we know. Adding fuel to the fire will Sydney's import addition, Justin Simon, who claimed the NBL21 Best Defensive Player award with the Hawks, before moving on from the league.

Of course, any team in the NBL would love to add a defensive threat the calibre of Simon, but you can't convince me there wasn't added motivation to rub salt into the wound of their rivals up the highway, after the Kings swept the Hawks in the opening round of the postseason earlier this year.

The Hawks have lost Brian Goorjian on the sideline, with Jacob Jakomas finally earning his shot as head coach after an extended apprenticeship under the coaching guru.

This is one hell of a welcome to the top job.

New Zealand Breakers vs. Tasmania JackJumpers - October 7, Spark Arena, 5:30 p.m. (AEDT)

At long last the Breakers will have an opportunity to play in front of home fans.

Outside of few games at the very backend of NBL21, the Breakers have been on the road since before the pandemic, essentially eliminating any hopes of a return to the postseason over the last two campaigns.

Newly promoted head coach Mody Maor has committed to bringing in locals, as the team attempts to re-ignite a gritty, tough, New Zealand culture that defined the club during its golden era last decade.

Playing in front of what should be feverish home crowd in Auckland should only enhance the challenge for a JackJumpers squad that never once backed away from a challenge in their historic first season in the league.

I've never been to New Zealand. This would be a fantastic reason to open the account.

Adelaide 36ers vs. Tasmania JackJumpers - October 13, Adelaide Entertainment Centre, 7:30 p.m. (AEDT)

The Adelaide 36ers were adamant they wanted to make a splash in free agency and they did just that, poaching two big name imports over the offseason.

On paper, the squad looks much improved, for a club that has struggled to find impactful imports in recent seasons.

Antonius Cleveland and Robert Franks are known commodities in the league and should benefit from understanding the intricate details of how the league works that can oftentimes leave foreign players with a significant period of adjustment.

Given the hype around the additions, a full house at home against the peskiest team in the league feels like a perfect early test for the 36ers.

Perth Wildcats vs. South East Melbourne Phoenix - October 28, RAC Arena, 9:30 p.m. (AEDT)

Perth and SEM both missed the NBL22 postseason in hugely disappointing campaigns for two clubs that had eyes on a title.

The Phoenix were already out of contention by the time the last regular season game rolled around, all they had left was crush the hopes of the Red Army, who hadn't gone without playoff basketball in well over three decades.

The Phoenix had played uninspired basketball for weeks, yet they made the cross-country trip and sunk the Wildcats in Perth, stunning the entire NBL who simply assumed the home team would find a way to get it done.

Both teams have a point to prove this season, but I have to imagine this might mean a little extra for Bryce Cotton and the Wildcats. They're too good, too competitive and too proud to forget.

"It was important for us, we wanted to finish the right way, we knew we hadn't had the season we wanted to have, and we wanted to finish it off in a way that our fans could be proud of and respect the way we went about it," SEM CEO Tommy Greer told ESPN.

"I've got no doubt when we head back it will be sitting with them, it's been a long time since they haven't been there in the postseason, and we were fairly responsible for that. I'm sure they'll come out with force, and we'll be ready for it."

Brisbane Bullets vs. Cairns Taipans - November 19, Nissan Arena, 8:00 p.m. (AEDT)

The Cairns Taipans finished NBL22 9-19, one win behind the Brisbane Bullets.

That might be disappointing, but the Snakes did manage an unblemished 4-0 mark against the Bullets. That's not a typo.

Sure, Brisbane missed Nathan Sobey for the majority of the season, but you would think they could have mustered a solitary win against a squad that went 5-19 the rest of the way.

Both clubs believe they are going to improve this season and with a bit of luck they will be rolling by the time they meet for the first Sunshine Stoush of the season in the middle of November.

For the Bullets, a healthy Sobey will be a decent start.

Sydney Kings vs. Melbourne United - December 25th, Qudos Bank Arena, 7:30 p.m. (AEDT)

I'm not sure if I'm alone on this one, but by 6:00 p.m. on Christmas night I am usually shuffling around the house wishing there was some live sport to watch.

It's taken quite a while to get here, but it's no surprise the Kings are the team to land a historic first home fixture on Christmas night based on their desire to create an NBA-like atmosphere in their home building.

It will be a costly exercise with the actual attendance anyone's guess, but I have to imagine the game will do well from a broadcast perspective on ESPN.

On the court, you have two teams who set the bar at a championship each year so the level of play should be elite. Maybe I simply need to get a life, but I for one am glad the league has finally taken hold of the wide-open Christmas sporting slate.