This Knicks pain is exactly what RJ Barrett needs

PHILADELPHIA — Growin’ up. Growing pains.

RJ Barrett’s 10-game trip into the stratosphere of high-end NBA competition started Wednesday night with a terrific high, a 17-point lead over the Sixers at the Wells Fargo Center. It was Barrett’s follow slam of a missed shot that put the Knicks up 77-60 with 4:15 remaining in the third quarter.

The Knicks and Barrett were flying, on their way to their best win of the year.

Those turned out to be his final points and his final rebound of the night as it all disappeared for the Knicks in a stunning 109-104 loss to the Sixers.

This is what life is really all about in the NBA. Learning in your rookie year what it takes to win, the gauntlet that must be run to beat a contending team on the road. It is never easy.

Here is the biggest lesson learned for the 19-year-old rookie:

“You’ve got to play a full 48,’’ Barrett told The Post in a quiet Knicks locker room as the players tried to figure out what went wrong so quickly.

In that final quarter, Barrett took three shots and missed them all, including a 3-pointer.

“I got my shots,’’ he said. “You’re not going to make them all. But I got them and I was happy with that.’’

No excuses. Nothing about the heavily taped left thumb that he sprained in the first quarter in the win over the Cavaliers on Monday night at the Garden.

The success wasn’t there in the fourth quarter, but this night, this performance bodes well for Barrett and other young Knicks such as Frank Ntilikina. This is the obstacle course they must run. There is no way around it in the NBA.

This was the kind of loss that will make Barrett better in the long run.

“For sure,’’ he said. “What is this, Game 15? So I’m good. I’m excited for it all.’’

David Fizdale is trying to teach valuable lessons while trying not to get fired, and on this night he said of the Sixers challenge, “This is a team that you can’t let off the gas for one minute.’’

What were his words to his team after this one and before the Knicks dug into a box of Philly cheesesteaks.

“Keep digging,’’ he said of his 4-11 Knicks. “I told them don’t make excuses.’’

Barrett has shown he belongs to the Knicks’ future because he can do things that make other players better. That is not always the case with these Knicks and their young players.

RJ Barrett
RJ BarrettNBAE via Getty Images

“This kid is as tough as they come,’’ Fizdale said.

This was never going to be easy, but the battle is accepting the challenge and rising to the best competition.

“I’m looking forward to it,’’ Fizdale said of seeing how his team completes this run. “We play 11 straight playoff teams from last year. I don’t look at any of these teams as an easy game but when you know you are going into the belly of the beast for a young kid, I think that is a great test.’’

Rebounding is where it’s at for Barrett.

“My dad programmed me to be aggressive as a young player,’’ RJ said of his dad, Rowan, a former pro player. “He always told me to go to the rim. Live in the paint. When you put pressure on the paint, you not only score but you force the whole defense to collapse and you can make easy plays to hit shooters.

“I just see the ball and I go for it. It’s wanting to make a winning play for the team and get a rebound.’’

“He’s got a feel for the game, man,’’ Fizdale said.

Eventually, Barrett will figure out the extra gear it takes to win in the NBA. There is only one way to learn and that is through all the hard knocks, the most difficult of losses and learning how not to collapse down the stretch.

None of that is easy. None of that is pleasant, but you have to take your hits and grow from them. That is the only way to learn in this league.

Have your Philly cheesesteak, no onions, and move forward.

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