CINCINNATI - Athletes are some of the most competitive people in the world, whether the foe is someone else or their own body. Convincing themselves that they are not hurt is often a way of life.

It's a trait that probably doesn't ever leave the makeup of that person, even if he's no longer a player. Perhaps that's why it took so long for head coach Doug Collins to give in to the headaches and dizziness he has been suffering since he fell in a coffee shop on Memorial Day and sustained a concussion.

Yesterday morning, after a meeting with his assistant coaches in preparation for last night's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Collins revealed that he needed to return to Philadelphia to get checked out. He flew out early yesterday afternoon and had a neurological appointment yesterday at Lankenau Hospital.

In his absence, associate coach Michael Curry ran the team in its next-to-last preseason game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at U.S. Bank Arena, a 111-95 Sixers loss.

"He told us this morning, he hadn't said anything before," said Curry after the team's morning shootaround. "Hopefully they'll run the tests and hopefully he'll be good. I haven't noticed any difference. We've been meeting a lot and going over a lot of things in preparation for these next two games and for the start of the season. We've been together a lot and spent a lot of hours together. I haven't seen anything different."

Collins' availability for tonight's final preseason game at the Wells Fargo Center against the New York Knicks hasn't been determined. Most likely he will sit out. The team has an off day tomorrow before resuming practice Friday in preparation for the regular-season opener against the visiting Miami Heat on Oct. 27.

"Mo Speights actually noticed something, he's very observant," said forward Elton Brand. "When we saw coach [yesterday] morning, he kept saying 'What's wrong with coach? He looks sick or something.' "

Whether this is a long-term problem or one that can be treated quickly is anyone's guess. It's a lot to handle for an organization that knew nothing about the original injury.

"I found out about it [yesterday]," said president Rod Thorn before last night's game. "I had no idea that he had had a concussion. I'm just glad that it's something that he felt strongly enough about that he needed to get checked. We're hopeful that it will be a temporary thing and he'll be back with us soon.

"Evidently he's been having some headaches and a little vertigo. I didn't notice it and not being a doctor . . . "

Collins apparently suffered the concussion 10 days after being named coach of the team on May 21.

"Obviously, in the short term, the loss of any one person, a great player or a great coach like Doug, the impact will be minimal," said ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy. "But over the long haul, if you lose somebody of that stature it's a major thing. Thankfully, it's a preseason game."

Game time

Not only was Collins absent last night, so was the Sixers' defense. The Cavs finished the first half with a 33-12 spurt, during which they shot 13-for-16 from the floor.

Rarely during the contest did the Cavs struggle to find a good shot, and finished the night shooting 43-for-76 (56.6 percent) while landing eight players in double figures, led by J.J. Hickson's 22.

Andre Iguodala, who scored one point in the last preseason game, led the Sixers with 19 points. He also collected 10 rebounds and six assists. Andres Nocioni contributed 17 points, while Jrue Holiday had 16 and Lou Williams 15 for the Sixers, who fell to 1-5 on the preseason.

Six shots

Center Spencer Hawes, out the past 2 weeks with a strained lower back, was in uniform last night but did not play. He said the back feels good and is getting better every day. He ran sprints about an hour before the game and seemed limber in warmups . . . Tony Battie (right knee synovitis) saw his first preseason action and started at center . . . Evan Turner's mom and a few friends made the trip from Chicago. Turner got a very nice ovation during introductions . . . Marreese Speights, recovering from a sore hamstring, saw 16 minutes of action . . . Former Eagle and current Cincinnati Bengal Terrell Owens sat courtside and met with Lou Williams and Elton Brand at halftime.

Daily News writer Phil Jasner contributed to this story.

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