SAN ANTONIO, June 6 (AP) -- Before heading into his press conference Wednesday, Mike Brown stopped for a quick chat with Gregg Popovich, a former boss who remains a close friend.

Whatever they discussed, you can be sure it had nothing to do with Xs and Os. Brown already knows too many of San Antonio's secrets.

LeBron James is Cleveland's superstar, but it is Brown, with his knowledge of the Spurs' system, who could be the Cavaliers' secret weapon heading into Game 1 of the NBA finals on Thursday night.

"He knows our playbook by heart, that's for sure,'' Spurs guard Tony Parker said. "He was an assistant coach here for a long time. He knows everybody, knows all our players, and so I think it's going to help him. It's going to take a little advantage.

"So it's going to play like two San Antonio teams.''

The Cavaliers are at a huge disadvantage when it comes to NBA finals experience, with only reserve guard Eric Snow having played for the title. But the Cavs hope they have something that can make up for that: plenty of knowledge of what the Spurs do.

From Brown and assistant Hank Egan to general manager Danny Ferry and his assistant, Lance Blanks, Cleveland's hierarchy is filled with people who had roles in making the Spurs one of the league's elite teams.

And now it's up to Brown to become the first coach to solve them in the NBA finals.

"This definitely is a model franchise. We can't be the Spurs,'' Brown said. "We don't have the same makeup as them or anything like that. It's too hard to be somebody else. We've just got to be ourselves.

"But we definitely like the things that they've done. They've had success, and there are a lot of things that we've taken from this organization and tried to implement based on the people we have around us in the Cavaliers organization.''

Brown spent three years as an assistant on Popovich's staff and was here in 2003 when the Spurs won the second of their three titles. He is 3-1 as a head coach against San Antonio, including two victories this season.

"Knowing what they run. Knowing the types of offensive plays they're running, how they play defense, the rotations are similar to what Coach Brown teaches,'' forward Drew Gooden said of what Cleveland learned from those wins.

"Throughout the season we tried to use this team as a measuring stick. I think now this is the ultimate measuring stick, is playing this team in the finals.''

The Spurs have always been one of the league's best defensive teams under Popovich, and not surprisingly that is Brown's strength. Like San Antonio, the Cavs try to keep the games close with their defense and hope their stars - James in Cleveland, Tim Duncan in San Antonio - can win it for them.

Brown's way worked in the regular season, as Cleveland limited San Antonio to 79.5 points per game. The Spurs were held to a season-low 28 field goals in one of their losses, so they know how tough the Cavs can make things for them.

"You factor in the knowledge - and everybody scouts, everybody knows each other anyhow - but I just think that the way they play and the way we play just makes for, it's going to be 83-81, or something like that,'' Spurs assistant P.J. Carlesimo said. "I just think the games are going to be a lot better and a lot tougher than everybody thinks. I hope to hell I'm dead wrong.''

Brown still owns a home in San Antonio and talks on the phone to Popovich, who said the Spurs "lost a good one'' when Brown left after the 2003 title to become an associate head coach for the Indiana Pacers.

Two years later, he was head coach of the Cavaliers and has won 50 games in each of his two seasons. And while Duncan said there aren't many secrets when it comes to this stage, the Cavs hope that Brown has some tricks up his sleeve that can help them win a series that few expect them to.

For instance, finding a way to confuse the normally unflappable Duncan.

"I'm guessing that Mike won't throw a steady diet of anything at me,'' Duncan said. "I'll have some opportunities to play a little bit of 1-on-1 basketball, I'll see a lot of double teams, I'll see double teams come from different areas. I've got to imagine that he's got a bunch of things that he'll throw at me and ... just try to change it up so I don't know what's coming.''


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