Josh Giddey will face a friendly foe in pre-season when his Oklahoma City Thunder square off against the Adelaide 36ers in a rebooted NBAxNBL clash.

While the NBL is remaining tight-lipped, News Corp has confirmed the Sixers will play two pre-season games against NBA teams, with Phoenix Suns the other opponent.

It’s understood the Sixers are the only NBL team that will make the trek to the US this season in a return of the format, following a two-season Covid-enforced hiatus.

Melbourne United had been slated for games against NBA opposition, but decided against making the trip, while Perth were also encouraged to take part, but knocked back the league’s overtures.

The NBL season tips off on October 1, but the Sixers don’t play their first game until round 3 on October 13, allowing for their trip.

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CLICK FOR EVERY TEAM’S OFF-SEASON ROSTER CHANGES

The Sixers gave Giddey his professional start and the teenager produced a stunning debut season, winning the NBL’s rookie of the year under the league’s successful Next Star program, before making the jump to the NBA.

The Victorian native wowed for the Thunder in his rookie season and appears to have taken his game to the next level, if his stunning NBA Summer League performances are anything to go by.

The Thunder boast one of the most exciting young cores in the NBA, with giant unicorns Chet Holmgren and Aleksej Pokusevski, along with bona fide superstar Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and a cast of rising young talent.

Phoenix is led by the brilliant back court of Devin Booker and Chris Paul and played off for an NBA championship less than two years ago.

The games will also be a chance for Sixers fans to get a look at their turbocharged roster, with rolled gold off-season import recruits Robert Franks and Antonius Cleveland joining Boomers star Mitch McCarron and a team that won four of its last five games in season 2021-22, but missed the NBL finals.

Bombshell finals shake up as NBL gets funky

The NBL has shaken up its finals format.

Following the success and permanent adoption of the NBA’s play-in tournament, the Aussie league will effectively move to a top six, with four qualifying teams outside the top two locked into battles for two semi-final spots.

Third and fourth play a seeding qualifier, the winner straight through to the semi final to meet the second-placed team.

The loser of the seeding qualifier will face the winner of the fifth v sixth play-in qualifier in a sudden death clash for the other semi-final slot.

The top two sides avoid the play-in tournament all together, moving straight into the semi finals.

The revamp will add spice to more contests among lower-ranked teams, given the increased stakes.

NBL commissioner Jeremy Loeliger said that would be good for those clubs’ fanbases — and the league.

“The NBA has had great success with its play-in tournament. We studied that model and are confident ours will see similar success,” Loeliger said.

Last season, Perth and South East Melbourne missed the finals by one and two games respectively — under the new format, their seasons would have taken on renewed significance.

Winners and losers from NBL23 draw

—Matt Logue

The 2022/2023 NBL championship race is tipped to be the tightest in recent history after the league released its draw for the season.

The Australian competition will return to its traditional October to February window, with 18 rounds over four months before the finals.

The schedule is loaded with rivalry clashes and new marquee games, highlighted by defending champions the Sydney Kings creating history and hosting arch rivals Melbourne United on Christmas Day.

The Kings open the season against foes Illawarra in Wollongong, but four home games in two weeks over Christmas looks set to define their title defence.

Sydney will commemorate the unfurling of our club’s fourth championship banner in round two when they host Brisbane on Friday, October 7.

The Kings have lost a host of stars from its title-winning team, including reigning MVP Jaylen Adams, gun big man Jarell Martin and ex-NBA guard Ian Clark.

Rival teams have loaded up in response to Sydney’s championship as they look to dethrone the Kings.

The Adelaide 36ers look ominous after landing reigning Defensive Player of the Year Antonius Cleveland from Illawarra and former Brisbane forward Robert Franks.

Cleveland and Franks will give the 36ers a major boost alongside the likes of Mitch McCarron and Daniel Johnson.

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Adelaide’s NBL23 campaign will tip-off with a home double-header on October 13 and 15, with NBL22 finalists Tasmania JackJumpers and Illawarra Hawks visiting Brett Maher Court.

“To come up against two of the benchmark teams from last season straight away is the perfect start for the club,” CEO Nick Barbato said.

Then there is the Perth Wildcats, who are desperate to regain their dominance after missing the finals for the first time since 1986 last season.

Gun guard Bryce Cotton and new coach – ex Boomers player and assistant coach John Rillie – will have the Wildcats purring.

Of course, we can’t forget about the two Melbourne teams – United and the Phoenix – who are always in the championship mix.

Kings CEO Chris Pongrass, though, is confident about his club’s title defence in NBL23.

“We’ve been able to maintain a core group of championship Kings,” Pongrass said.

“The re-signing of Xavier Cooks, who established himself as one of the best players in the country last season, was huge for us as was securing starting shooting guard Dejan Vasiljevic.

“On top of that we’ve added some exciting new faces to that group led of course by our two new imports Derrick Walton Jr and Justin Simon, who we both expect to have a significant impact on the league.”

The NBL is coming off one of its most successful years in recent history achieving unprecedented growth with the total number of fans swelling to almost four million and total attendances up 17 per cent. Average TV audiences are up 12 per cent with almost 230 million international viewers reached through global broadcasts.

NBL Commissioner Jeremy Loeliger is anticipating another competitive and close season.

“We are thrilled to be back where we belong on the sports’ calendar and playing through the summer months, through to March next year,” Loeliger said.

“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.

“With just 68 days remaining until the season opener, I’m sure our clubs, players, fans, broadcasters, and partners share a strong level of excitement ahead of what promises to be another spectacular season of world-class basketball and entertainment.”

HOW YOUR NBL TEAM FARED IN THE DRAW:

SYDNEY KINGS:

Four home games in two weeks over the Christmas period looks set to define their championship defence.

MELBOURNE UNITED:

United need a strong start to the season as they face a daunting seven-game away stretch at the back end of their campaign, including big games against Sydney and Adelaide.

SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX:

The Phoenix have the opportunity to start the season strongly, with five home games, including winnable games against Cairns, New Zealand, and Brisbane.

BRISBANE BULLETS:

An extremely difficult start to the season with away games against Perth, Sydney, and Tasmania before a home clash against the defending champion Kings.

ADELAIDE 36ERS:

Adelaide will host five Friday night and five Saturday night matches in prime time this season.

TASMANIA JACKJUMPERS:

Six of their first nine games are on the road, which will test Tasmania, especially with games against the Phoenix, United and the 36ers.

PERTH WILDCATS:

Watch for the Wildcats to hit back hard this season. The men from the west have a favourable draw to start the season, with winnable clashes against Brisbane, Illawarra, and Cairns.

CAIRNS TAIPANS:

A difficult draw to start the season with two away clashes against the Kings and home games against the Wildcats and United.

ILLAWARRA HAWKS:

A bumper/challenging start to the season with two home games against the Kings and the Phoenix followed by away games against Perth and Adelaide.

NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS:

The Breakers returning to New Zealand says it all really. The men from New Zealand will finally have their home court, and it should result in a rise up the ladder.

Originally published as NBL 2022-23: Adelaide 36ers to play Oklahoma City Thunder in the US

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