For the San Miguel Beermen, nothing takes the wind out of their sails more than losing June Mar Fajardo to an injury.

Fajardo, who was averaging 14.3 points, 12.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.4 blocks through nine games in the 2023 Honda PBA Governors’ Cup, was diagnosed with a MCL tear on his left knee following a collision with the Ryukyu Golden Kings’ Jack Cooley 21 seconds into their 2023 EASL Champions Week game.

Following the diagnosis, the eight-time PBA All-Star was given a six-week timeline for recovery. This would mean Fajardo can return to the court as early as the Governors’ Cup finals, that is if the Beermen even make it that far.

SMB took a step in the right direction after they took down the NLEX Road Warriors. Trailing by three points with 5:02 left in the first quarter, San Miguel went on a 12-0 run to take a 26-17 lead they wouldn’t relinquish for the rest of the game.

It was a team effort for the Beermen in the 120-106 win, as six players scored at least eight points (led by Cameron Clark’s game-high 45 points) and five players hauled in at least five rebounds. Moreover, four players dished out at least three assists, further proving that team work can make the dream work.

At 8-2, SMB is assured of at least a top-3 spot in the quarterfinals. Whether or not they will have a twice-to-beat advantage entering the postseason, though, remains to be seen. San Miguel will close out the preliminary round of the Governors’ Cup against the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, who have nothing to play for but would nonetheless like to end their season on a high note. The win against the Road Warriors was a morale booster, but the Beermen can’t fall prey into what can be a trap game against the Elasto Painters.

Of course, some will point to how SMB has at times veered away from Fajardo as a primary option on offense, but even just the mere presence of the nine-time PBA Best Player of the Conference is enough to make defenses think twice. Fajardo also remains in the hunt for what would be his record-extending seventh PBA MVP award with season averages of 17.7 points (on 59.5 percent shooting from the field), 13.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 1.3 blocks.

This of course has to be weighed with the fact that Fajardo, who turns 34 in November, isn’t getting any younger and has suffered a handful of injuries that have forced him to miss a significant number of games in recent years. From a complete right tibia fracture in 2020 to the laryngeal fracture he suffered in the recently concluded Commissioner’s Cup, the battles inside have taken its toll on the 11-year veteran.

San Miguel will likely take on a cautious approach moving forward and continue to adopt a whole-of-team approach in the meantime. A group effort on the boards and emphasis on ball movement will help, but it would also mean other players would have to take on bigger roles. Clark will obviously get more touches in the paint, and it’s up to him to maximize those opportunities because the benefits spill over to that of his teammates.

Among the locals, it’s CJ Perez who could hold the key. When the 29-year old was traded to the Beermen, it was understood that he would figure into SMB’s present and future. Now he has another chance to validate that.

Nights of brilliance from Perez are usually offset by rough games. One can see it as having to live and die with the decision-making of the first overall selection in the 2018 PBA Draft but the long-term view is that he will get better with time. It begs the question if that time is now.

Life without June Mar Fajardo can be tough for the San Miguel Beermen, but it isn’t unfamiliar territory. The next few weeks will reveal how they will respond to the challenge once again and with the tools at their disposal, there is optimism that they can add on to their PBA-best 28 championships. It’s up to them to get together to make it all happen.