WASHINGTON (AP) -Caron Butler chews on fast-food straws as if they're gum, even during games, and he persuaded Antawn Jamison to try it on the sideline during a blowout victory a few weeks ago.
Jamison nearly choked on the plastic. He did, however, live to tell about it, which is what he was doing in a lounge at the Washington Wizards' arena after practice Thursday. And Butler was sitting next to Jamison, chuckling his baritone chuckle during the story.
At first glance, the teammates seem as different as could be: Butler in his bright green sweat shirt and Ed Hardy designer jeans, Jamison in his white T-shirt and gray sweats; Butler with his hard-nosed attitude and ``Tough Juice'' nickname, Jamison with his mellow demeanor and offseason yoga regimen.
Not to say they finish each other's sentences, but these two co-captains have forged an off-court bond that appears to be as successful as their on-court collaboration this season.
``The personalities are different, but we're still the same. The way we approach different situations is different, but in the back of our minds, we're trying to accomplish the same thing,'' Jamison said. ``I might say something, and he'll look at me, like, 'That's what I was thinking.' Or vice versa.''
With the yin-and-yang forwards leading the way in the box scores and the locker room, the Wizards are winning while Gilbert Arenas works his way back from left knee surgery. Washington heads into Friday's game against Memphis at 22-18, good for second place in the Southeast Division and fifth in the Eastern Conference.
There are plenty of reasons for a recent run of five victories in seven games, including two wins against NBA-best Boston and one against Dallas: steady point guard play from Antonio Daniels, improved shooting from DeShawn Stevenson, a stronger commitment to defense.
The most obvious reasons, though, are Butler and Jamison.
``Antawn's been doing the same thing his whole career. And Caron is playing phenomenal basketball. You put those two powers on one team, you're going to win games,'' said Arenas, third in the league in scoring last season.
``They've been playing All-Star basketball,'' Arenas added. ``Both of those guys.''
All-Star starters were to be announced Thursday night, and neither Butler nor Jamison was among the top five Eastern Conference forwards in the vote tally released by the NBA two weeks ago. Still, both figure to get consideration when coaches determine the reserves to be announced next Thursday.
``Those two guys, Butler and Jamison, are good,'' Knicks coach Isiah Thomas said recently.
``They're All-Star players,'' was Mavericks coach Avery Johnson's matter-of-fact assessment.
Butler is one of only three NBA players averaging at least 20 points, six rebounds and four assists. The others? A couple of guys named LeBron and Kobe. Heard of 'em?
Jamison, meanwhile, is one of only two players in the East averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds, joining Orlando center Dwight Howard.
Together, Butler and Jamison are the NBA's highest-scoring starting forwards, at 42.8 points per game.
``I try to just piggyback off everything that he does,'' Butler said. ``Antawn is quiet, but he's vocal when it's time to be vocal.''
One example: Butler credits Jamison - with input from Daniels and Stevenson - with reorganizing the locker room, splitting up the rookies so each has a stall next to an older player, instead of all the youngsters being grouped together.
Another example: Jamison occasionally gathers teammates for outings on the road.
``I'm the type of guy that gets on the road and just likes to lock myself in the hotel room and watch movies,'' Butler said. ``But 'Tawn gets you out, takes you out to dinner, just to loosen up, get to know each other.''
Butler, in turn, suggests films to Jamison. The latest? Jessica Alba's ``Good Luck Chuck.''
Butler, who vows to heed Jamison's advice to try yoga, does much more than give movie-watching and straw-chewing tips. Helps with basketball stuff, too.
``He pushes me,'' said the 31-year-old Jamison, the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year in 2003-04 and an All-Star the following season. ``Say I didn't get a loose ball. He's, 'Come on, man! You've got to get that! You've got to set the tone!' It's good to have somebody push you, no matter what you accomplished in the past. ... Sometimes he goes overboard, but it makes me better.''
Butler nodded, then described how Jamison repays the favor.
``You hear him out there on the court, 'Come on, boy-boy!' and you know you've got to turn it up,'' said the 27-year-old Butler, who made his All-Star debut last season. ``It really is a trickle-down effect. Once they see us vibing like that, everybody else'' - he snapped his fingers three times - ``just catches on.''
Both get kudos from younger teammates for alternating criticism and compliments.
``They give me pep talks that get me going,'' 2007 first-round draft pick Nick Young said. ``When Caron says I'm coming into my own, that keeps me motivated.''
As much as Jordan loves the points and rebounds he gets from his forwards, he also is excited about the example they set.
``They come in and go to work, they like practice, they like to work on their game,'' Jordan said, ``and everyone else follows.''
Did Jordan think Washington would fare as well as it has without Arenas, going 19-13 since the point guard last played Nov. 16?
``No, not really, to be honest,'' Jordan said with a smile. ``I knew we would try, but I didn't know how the wins and losses would come out.''
Jordan never sat down Jamison and Butler for a talk about what they would need to do until Arenas' return. He spoke to the entire team about altering approach and strategy.
And the captains realized they didn't need to deliver a rah-rah speech.
``It was said without being said. Everybody was just like, 'Gilbert's down, let's go out there and prove the doubters wrong.' ... That's basically what we've been doing,'' Butler said. ``We believe in us. Even if nobody else does, we know we've got what it takes in that locker room to get the job done.''
And with that, their side-by-side interview completed, the Wizards' starting forwards, co-captains and would-be 2007-08 All-Stars rose from their chairs.
Suddenly, Butler jumped on Jamison's back playfully and yelled, ``See? He likes me!''
Jamison laughed, then said simply, ``The man makes me better.''

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