The Chicago Bulls have made a habit of playing up to elite competition and down to the lesser of late.
It seems the Indiana Pacers are rejoining the former, especially now that they're winning even when Paul George struggles.
The Bulls seek consecutive wins for the first time in two weeks when they host the rejuvenated Pacers on Wednesday night.
Chicago (17-12) has stumbled through a tough December, which features two three-game losing streaks and the well-documented critical comments from All-Star Jimmy Butler on new coach Fred Hoiberg.
The Bulls, though, do have five wins this season over division leaders - two over Oklahoma City and one apiece against Cleveland, San Antonio and Toronto - but they've lost to under-.500 teams Phoenix, New York and Brooklyn this month.
''It's all about effort and energy,'' point guard Derrick Rose said. ''We have that when we play the best teams and sometimes we don't against the lesser teams.''
Rose has averaged 21.3 points as the Bulls have won two of three games - beating the Thunder and Raptors - following a three-game skid which included losses to the Knicks and Nets.
The common thread to Friday's 105-96 win in Oklahoma City and Monday's 104-97 victory over Toronto was good defense, holding those teams to a combined 40.8 percent shooting. Opponents are averaging 92.5 points on 39.9 percent shooting in Chicago's wins, compared to 110.6 points and 44.5 percent in losses.
The Bulls have seen mixed results against the Pacers (18-12), with each team winning once at home in November, but couldn't keep George in check either time. He totaled 59 points while making 8 of 15 from 3-point range, but the former All-Star enters this matchup stuck in his worst stretch of the season.
George is averaging 11.5 points in his last four games while shooting 25.4 percent. He scored nine points on 3-of-14 shooting in a 93-87 win over Atlanta on Monday.
"It's a long season," George said. "I'd rather go through this now than late in the year."
Indiana had been 2-7 when he failed to score at least 19 points before winning its last two games without him doing so.
Monta Ellis has picked up the slack by averaging 23.0 points on 54.2 percent shooting in the last three games, including a season-high 26 on Monday.
George breaking his slump will take another big effort against Butler, an All-Defensive second-team pick last season. George has averaged 20.5 points in six games against the Bulls since Butler became a full-time starter in the 2013-14 season.
"I know Jimmy's one of the best defenders in this league," George said. "But it's him being locked in defensively that might get me going offensively."
The Pacers have certainly had Pau Gasol's number this season, limiting him to a combined 14 points on 6-of-27 shooting. Gasol, though, has averaged 22.2 points in his last five games.
Both teams are banged up with the Bulls still missing Mike Dunleavy (back) and Joakim Noah (shoulder sprain) while Doug McDermott is day-to-day with a sprained knee. While Jordan Hill (tooth infection) has been ruled out for the Pacers, it's unclear if Myles Turner (thumb) or C.J. Miles (back) will play.
Indiana has lost five of the last six meetings in Chicago.
The Bulls are 0-5 at home when giving up more than 100 points and 12-0 when they don't.