R.J. Barrett (304312)
Credit: Bill Moore photo

t’s perfectly reasonable to wonder if the Knicks have made a Faustian bargain.

After eight consecutive seasons of finishing with a losing record, their dubious streak ended on Monday night in Memphis with a 118-104 victory over the Grizzlies. The Knicks raised their record to 37-28 ahead of their match up with the Denver Nuggets last night (Wednesday). It was their third game of a six-game Western Conference road trip that concludes next Tuesday against the Los Angeles Lakers.

For some long tormented Knicks fans, it’s challenging to process the dramatic turn of fortune experienced by their team given they have routinely finished under .500 season after frustrating regular season since ending 54-28 in 2013. That team featured leading scorer Carmelo Anthony (28.7 points per game), second leading scorer J.R. Smith (17.7) and point guard Raymond Felton (14 ppg). Amar’e Stoudemire was limited to only 29 games battling injuries.

The unquestioned leader of this current group is Julius Randle, who entered the Knicks’ second game in 10 days versus the Suns – Phoenix defeated them 118-110 at Madison Square Garden on April 26 – topping his squad in the four major statistical categories of points (24.2), rebounds (10.2), assists (5.9) and minutes played (37.4). No player arguably in the NBA has been more important to his team – and entire organization for that matter – this season than Randle. He should be a lock for one of the three All NBA teams.

The Knicks’ win over the Grizzlies was a remarkable 12th in their previous 13 games. They are in a tight battle with the Atlanta Hawks, Miami Heat and Boston Celtics for the coveted fourth spot in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks were No. 4 and led the Hawks by 1.5 games, and the Heat and Celtics by 2.5 when Wednesday’s slate of games began.

The first four seeds have home court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. The Knicks have six regular season games remaining, concluding with the Celtics at the Garden on May 16. So each game has heightened urgency and ramifications. The Knicks demonstrated they fully understand the magnitude of the moment against a Grizzlies team clawing to secure one of the West’s play-in spots that go to 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th seeds.

“You gotta bring the energy and the commitment to win, and so I thought our guys were excellent in terms of preparation,” said Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau, a deserving candidate for the NBA Coach of the Year award, which he won in 2011 piloting the Bulls.

“We got in late, or early this morning, and just being ready to go at the start of the game. … We built a lead in the third, struggled a little in the fourth, but found a way to win. So whatever we have to do to get the win, it’s hard to win on the road.. …I like the mental toughness of our team.”

RJ Barrett, who was averaging 17.6 points per game prior to facing the Suns, echoed the tenets Thibodeau has been preaching all season. “It just feels good to know we’re doing the right thing and keep working together, and it will pay off.” Indeed those time worn sports principles has paid huge dividends.

Next up for the Knicks are the Phoenix Suns tomorrow night, the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday and the Lakers. They return to MSG to host the San Antonio Spurs next Thursday.