As he left the court at Mandalay Bay Events Center on Saturday, Blake Griffin did so without the assistance of a trainer.
That in itself was a victory for the Los Angeles Clippers forward, whose bad luck in Las Vegas has been exceeded only by a bettor who picks nine of 10 winners on a football parlay card every week.
As a rookie in 2009, Griffin hurt his shoulder in his first NBA Summer League game at the Thomas & Mack Center against the Los Angeles Lakers. In July, he reinjured his surgically repaired left knee while training with Team USA at the Mendenhall Center and missed the Olympics.
"I hope those days are over," Griffin said of a perceived "Vegas Jinx" after finishing with six points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes in Saturday's 106-104 loss to the Denver Nuggets in an NBA preseason game. "I'm not even thinking about that. I'm just trying to move forward."
That's going to be the Clippers' mantra for this year. After winning a playoff series for the first time since 2006 when they beat the Memphis Grizzlies in May, the Clippers are counting on Griffin to help them take the next step and build on last season's success.
"Nobody wants to go backward," Griffin said. "We've got a nice mix of young players and veteran guys who know how to win. We don't want to have any slippage."
The core of the Clippers - Griffin, Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler and DeAndre Jordan - has added veterans Jamal Crawford, Willie Green and Lamar Odom, who began his career with the Clippers in 1999. Griffin, who is about to begin his third NBA season, said he has learned about work ethic and dedication to being professional from being around so many veterans.
"You're always learning," he said. "You watch the way these guys carry themselves, how they prepare every day, how hard they go in practice, and it rubs off on you."
Griffin put those traits to work while he rehabbed his knee the past couple of months. He made sure he would be ready for Saturday's preseason opener and be good to go when the regular season opens Oct. 31 at the Staples Center against the Grizzlies.
"That was my main priority, to be ready physically when camp opened," Griffin said. "It was disappointing to not be able to play in the Olympics. But there was nothing I could do about that. It was an opportunity that wasn't coming back. But I could make sure I was ready when camp was opened, and that was my focus."
He was ready Saturday. Late in the first quarter, Griffin took an alley-oop pass from Crawford and flushed it home in Lob City fashion, bringing the announced crowd of 6,748 to its feet.
Before getting hurt at UNLV, Griffin spent the offseason with Bob Thate, who was hired as the Clippers' shooting coach. Thate made some adjustments to Griffin's form - his new technique is more compact and streamlined - and the hope is Griffin will shoot a higher percentage from the floor and from the foul line, where he was 52 percent last season.
"It was weird at first," Griffin said. "It's still a bit of an adjustment, but I'm not thinking about the mechanics as much. I'm probably 90 percent comfortable with it."
Griffin said he still has a lot of growth left before reaching his ceiling as an NBA player.
"I've only played two full seasons," said Griffin, who missed his first year after surgery on his left knee only to bounce back and be NBA Rookie of the Year in 2011. "I've still got a lot to learn."
■ NOTES - Saturday's game at Mandalay Bay was the first played on the Strip since 1981, when the Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers met at the old Aladdin Theater for the Performing Arts. ... Former Valley High School star Hank Thorns is on the Clippers' preseason roster and had six points in four minutes.
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.